This publication is the outcome of Central European Forum – two days of public discussions our small team at Projekt Forum organized in November 2009 in conjunction with the Václav Havel Library, the Bratislava Mayor’s Office and a number of Slovak and international partners.
Central European Forum 2009 was organized to mark the 20th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s Velvet Revolution. Looking back at the past twenty years we felt that, rather than wallowing in cheap nostalgia the best way to mark the events was by creating a platform for reflecting, not only on what had happened in the intervening period, but also for a discussion of issues relating to the future of Central Europe. Since rejoining Europe in the autumn of 1989, the former communist countries of Eastern and Central Europe have held democratic elections, embarked on a rapid transformation to a market economy, and joined the European Union and NATO. None the less, twenty years on, everything we took for granted only a few years ago seemed to be fragmenting and losing its validity. There was a growing feeling of exhaustion and disillusionment in the region, as the countries of Eastern and Central Europe succumbed to growing populism, corruption, racism and chauvinism, and the Anglo-Saxon model of market economics no longer appeared to be working.
The idea of Central European Forum 2009 and the composition of its panels grew organically from our contact with the issues, authors and texts that the Projekt Forum team has been featuring for some years in Fórum, the weekly supplement to the daily SME and in an expanded form, through the internet project www.salon.eu.sk and www.salon.eu.sk/english.
Held at the Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav Theatre in Bratislava, the event was attended by some 400 members of the public. Twenty-five major intellectual figures representing many countries, generations and experiences, kindly accepted our invitation to cross intellectual swords and answer questions from the audience on issues ranging from dealing with our common totalitarian heritage, the future of reforms and democracy in the midst of an economic crisis, Central Europe’s position between East and West as well as democracy fatigue, a phenomenon encountered throughout Europe.
We hope that this publication, based on transcripts from the Central European Forum 2009 (a video recording of the proceedings can be viewed on our website, www.ceeforum.eu) conveys the excitement and intellectual vigour of the debates as much as the lively photographs of the proceedings by Peter Župník, whose photographic record of the Velvet Revolution was on display in the foyer of the Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav Theatre throughout the event.
Our project would never have moved beyond a mere idea if it had not been for the support of a number of organizations and sponsors to whom we would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks.
We are extremely grateful for the financial support from Erste Stiftung; Visegrad Fund; EACA Europe for Citizens; Západoslovenská energetika; The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, Central European Foundation; The Embassies of the Republic of Poland, U.S.A. and United Kingdom; Goethe Institut Slovakei; Art Hotel William, EXE Ltd; The Cultural Institute of the Hungarian Republik.
We would also like to thank our media partners, TA3, Slovenský rozhlas – Rádio Devín, Perlentaucher and Eurozine as well as T-Com, our exclusive internet partner.
Furthermore, we are indebted to our partners, the Václav Havel Library; Hlavné mesto Bratislava (the Mayor’s Office); Verejnosť proti násiliu; Maďarská nezávislá iniciatíva; Študentské hnutie; Vydavateľstvo Kalligram; Poľský inštitút; Slovenská debatná asociácia; Občianske združenie Česko-slovenské Mosty; Medzinárodný festival Kino na granicy; Élet és Irodalom; .týždeň ; Bravium, Ltd.; Agentúra Manna; ROXYcatering.
And last but not least, our thanks go to our wonderful team of young (and not so young) volunteers who ensured the smooth and professional running of the event, and to Peter Župník for providing the visual record.
All of this has ensured that Central European Forum 2009 was well received by the audience, as well as by the media, our panellists and donors. This experience has encouraged us to view this event as the beginning rather than the end of the debate. We are therefore making preparations for Central European Forum 2010, which will again take place in November to coincide with the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Meanwhile, we hope you will enjoy revisiting Central European Forum 2009.
The dangers of selfishness (with special reference to Central Europe)
On 16 November 1988, one year before the Velvet Revolution, Milan Šimečka wrote the following prophetic words, whose impact most of us have yet to appreciate: “Should a democratic revolution come to pass, I dread to imagine the mess we’ll have to clear up after ourselves, the moral jumble we’ll have to disentangle as we try to figure out who should get the blame, who should be forgiven, who ought to do penance and who ought to take revenge. Every single person aged forty and over will be left with a moral trauma for the rest of their life.” When he wrote these words not even Milan Šimečka – that rare breed of optimist who dared believe what others did not even dream was possible – had any idea how close the country was to his “democratic revolution”; but he imagined that a degree of moral decay would inevitably follow, no matter how democratic the change was. And who knows, perhaps what happened was not really a revolution: perhaps communism just collapsed, a desire for freedom made it implode, entangling everyone in its morass of moral decay. And perhaps that is why both victors and vanquished were entangled in the morass and that is why, despite the abundance of mythopoeia and jubilation, the implosion of communism does not fully qualify for founding myth status.
By the end of the 1980s, as the dictatorship of the proletariat ”entered the terminal stage of its decline,“ it started to relax its grip but still nobody could imagine it would really come tumbling down for good, let alone that it would happen in such a gentle, velvet-like manner as it did between November 1989 and June 1990. Until then most of the population enjoyed a consumerist and conformist lifestyle, which in Czechoslovakia was quite comfortable by “socialist camp” standards. If people were at all aware of issues such as the right to a free country, human rights and a democratic society, it was only against the backdrop of their memories of August 1968 or, in the case of some more discerning citizens, due to the broadcasts of Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.
Unlike the Czech lands, where opposition was more organized at least after Charter 77, Slovakia lacked leading opposition personalities and a spiritual or intellectual opposition base. What we had instead was a Catholic underground movement fighting for freedom of religion (the Protestant minority played only a minor role in this struggle). There were a few reform communists, known as the “positive deviants”, who for twenty years went on dreaming their hopeless dream of the return of socialism with a human face. Then there was the environmental movement that, within the relatively limited room that was available, came closest to an opposition movement. And last but not least, inhabiting the grey or semi-grey zone, there were the drawing-room democrats – intellectuals, artists, scholars (sociologists, literary scholars, natural scientists and others) who tried to expand the space available for free thinking and art through public activities.
In addition, Slovakia also had a group of Hungarian intellectuals. Paradoxically, although most of them were members of the ruling communist party, they maintained contacts with the politically more coherent opposition in Hungary and were therefore better prepared for the impending changes.
Although cooperation among these diverse groups was limited, nevertheless, by the end of the eighties they formed a reservoir of intellectual and, for a while also political, change. However, later on it was the economists – the former communist “captains of industry” who had rapidly advanced to generals by the early 1990s – who together with the “national capital-generating” classes were best equipped to tackle the practical aspects of transformation. By the time the transition was accomplished the velvet revolutionaries found themselves sidelined, with a bad taste in their mouth and reduced to mere observers of the excesses of privatization, the nepotism and corruption ushered in by the newly acquired freedom and democracy. And all these phenomena are still with us today.
This is not the only factor that has prevented most of us from reflecting on ourselves, not just in the past twenty years but also in the decades preceding the transition. That is why our reckoning with the past has proceeded in a rather haphazard fashion, to put it mildly. And that is why only a few intellectual Don Quixotes have really been bothered by the moral trauma mentioned by Milan Šimečka.
Our reckoning with the past has not involved any punishment, which would be fine, assuming that our transition was based on a consensus arising out of an ideal international political situation. What is worse, however, is that no process of remembering has taken place either, regardless of lustration, be it the legal or of the “wild” type. And since the consensual transition has not produced any transparent rules, neither have we experienced the Spanish-style ruptura pacta (a consensual breakthrough), with all its consequences. For the majority of people the most visible sign of reckoning with the past are lustrations of secret police collaborators: the public denouncing of prominent individuals from the world of politics, economy, diplomacy, art, the church and so on, while the real perpetrators have mostly remained shrouded in anonymity. In an interview in Lidové noviny in December 2005 Václav Havel was quite right to point out that those who the lustration law was primarily aimed at must be laughing their heads off now: “After all, none of them holds an office in state administration. They all went into business, becoming managers of enormous companies and making millions every month”. Hungarian sociologist Iván Szelényi refers to the period of unrestrained privatization in the early nineties as a great bank robbery and believes it could not have taken place without the knowledge of the new political elites who allied themselves with a significant part of the old, predominantly economic, communist elite. But who would even want to remember that today?
We have established special Institutes of National Memory – albeit a rather reduced and institutionalized memory – for documenting collaboration with the communist and Nazi regimes. Sadly, we do not seem to have much appetite for documenting our more recent and contemporary memory. The result of such an undertaking would probably not be very encouraging. However, the concept of national remembrance or memory is as nonsensical as the concept of a collective or, should we say national, guilt or innocence. In other words: at some stage between 1945 and 1989 in former Czechoslovakia some seven million citizens – including many of our own relatives, friends and colleagues, those who were guilty as well as those who were innocent, conformists, people with integrity as well as villains, believers and non-believers – joined the Communist Party. Later on many of them participated in the struggle to reform the regime and for human rights, and were actively involved in the events of November 1989. By the time the regime collapsed Czechoslovakia’s population of 15 million included 1.5 million party members (it would be quite interesting to survey their present-day social status!). That is another reason why there could not have been genuine anti-communism in Slovakia: it had not, after all, existed before 1989 either.
Yet this is no reason for belated post-communist anti-communism. What it demonstrates is rather that our reckoning with the past did not take place at a time when it could have had any practical or administrative impact (i.e. that could have affected many of the key participants of the transition process). Let us not forget: we were not much more successful in our the attempt to redress the wrongs of World War II, which amounted to expulsions, deportations, punishment, population exchanges, stripping of citizenship, re-Slovakization, compensation, and so on.
Some moments in history demand that a nation or a society distance itself from its past and attempt critical self-reflection. We have had our share of radical, simplistic distancing – first following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy in 1918; then, after 1939 when we overthrew the regime and ideology of the first democratic Czechoslovak Republic with a generous help from Hitler, „choosing“ the totalitarianism of a fascist „lesser” – though national (or national-socialist) – evil instead; then again after the war in 1945, when we rejected the Slovak State lock stock and barrel and proceeded to mete out collective punishment to our Hungarians indiscriminately branding them fascists. A little later on, following the communist takeover of 1948, we rejected basically everything in the name of another kind of totalitarianism: this time it was the dictatorship of the proletariat. Then again, after the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968, we revived the worst aspects of the communist regime, albeit in a softer or slightly degraded form. Next, after 1989, we rejected everything again, not without a little help from the communists in a so-called consensual transition. And then in 1993 we rejected everything that the preceding three years had stood for. And so on and so forth, after nearly every electoral change. Our history textbooks have suffered most but people’s consciousness has been even more adversely affected. The twenty years that have passed since the fall of communism could have turned out like the fabled twenty years in which the Germans succeeded in a more critical and sober assessment of their own past and managed to achieve a distance from it, not only in the generational sense. Yet so far, on the rare occasions when the meaning of our history is discussed, the focus is not on how to interpret history but rather on how to manipulate it and own it. The twentieth anniversary of the transition from communism might finally change this and stimulate genuine critical intellectual discourse about who we are.
The last few decades of the past century brought about a fundamental change of civilization that was transformational rather than revolutionary, but truly fundamental: many countries, not only in Europe, that had lived under totalitarian regimes have set out to establish or, in some cases re-establish, democracy. But in spite of the fact that in this part of the world the changes were led by intellectuals, not by the military as in Latin America, we have tended, or rather preferred to, forget the enormous intellectual impact of the transition process and the fact that those who had experienced the transition at first hand had to come to terms not just with the past but also with the present. And we still tend to or prefer to, forget that it was the compromises forged in (secret) negotiations that were the starting point of the transition and that, to quote the scholar Samuel P. Huntington, it really was a kind of “democratic trade-off” aimed at “facilitating participation in the political process in exchange for moderation”. If we bear this in mind we might find it easier to appreciate quite how velvet-like and gentle our transformation had been and understand our own personal unwillingness to come to terms with our own past and to keep dragging along with us our moral trauma.
The last twenty years deserve to be treated not only as historical discourse but also as a reflection on our future. For the present state of affairs, particularly in Central Europe, is characterized by an enormous selfishness, which is also celebrating its twentieth birthday. Here in Central Europe we no longer feel solidarity with each other (even though we have established a specific institution for that purpose, the Visegrad Four), with the West or with the world at large (even though we have finally managed to become fully-fledged members of the EU and NATO). Nor do we feel solidarity within our own communities, countries and nations.
As we embraced capitalism twenty years ago, we had many illusions about it and failed to realize it was already in decline. We succumbed to the late capitalist consumerism in its least attractive guise. We thought naively that the weekend cottage consumerism of the normalization era with its alienation and isolation from the real world was the worst thing that could happen to mankind. Yet it has turned out that the domination of consumerism, commerce and kitsch, to which we have adapted with lightning speed, is just as dangerous for the moral rebirth of society as are ideological deformations. And we have not yet found a remedy for this. Another important issue we were too na?ve to anticipate was poverty. Under communism everyone was equally poor (though not in the spiritual sense) and human envy was kept within bounds. These days greed and a disfiguring cult of money make us oblivious to poverty. It is not the done thing to talk about poverty even though we have learned a thing or two about the social disparities that have emerged. Another thing we have learned over the past twenty years is that the free market does not necessarily produce social balance and justice although right at the beginning we did harbour the illusion that markets would solve everything. Now we know they do not. Although the old Aristotelian maxim that everything has its own measure still applies, we do not know what the right measure is when it comes to social, economic or moral issues.
Moreover, we have not been able to define our own identity. Until 1989 we had a clear, albeit a two-faced, identity. On the outside we would say what the totalitarian ideology demanded, participating in a ritual based on an accepted social contract. Internally we clung to our own views. We knew that the social contract had been imposed from above; we were aware of its limitations and accepted its distortions. However, now the time-proven Western social contract does not seem to work in Central Europe either. Although we have established institutions that are supposed to guarantee the transition from communism – and in this respect the 1989 transformation was primarily an institutional one – a real revolution or a revolutionary transformation of the liberated human soul has not taken place. This will undoubtedly require much more time.
I guess I am speaking primarily on behalf of my own, dying generation, which remembers the two-faced period I referred to earlier. The next generation is likely to be different but that does not assuage my doubts as to the fundamental values it has embraced. First and foremost it is money. The wellspring of globalization is financial and economic, rather than cultural. Following 1989, as globalization entered Central Europe and brought with it a cult of the materialistic world, it is worth asking whether life at, or below, subsistence level can still be called “free”. And in any case: who says that money is the guarantee of freedom?
Since my life has been shaped by a different kind of experience, the key issue for me is whether money and economic prosperity can really be the foundations of freedom. Before 1989, under the “dictatorship of the proletariat”, this sort of question did not arise. In the best of cases, we had freedom without freedom. Now that we know what freedom is, we should be able to find the Aristotelian measure of who we are and what we are. Yet today it is much more difficult to find answers to fundamental questions than it was in totalitarian times. Those of us who have experienced totalitarianism believed that freedom was to be found beyond the Iron Curtain, and we thought we knew everything or nearly everything about it. Today the least we can be certain of is that this belief was part and parcel of our portfolio of illusions.
Freedom will always be every liberal’s fundamental starting point. Now, as ever, out of the three fundamental concepts (i.e. tradition for the conservatives and solidarity for the socialists), the concept of freedom is the most difficult to grasp. We know roughly what tradition entails; we know what solidarity means although we don’t care much about it. Yet, when it comes to freedom, we still don’t seem to realize that its basic value is measured by another Aristotelian maxim, which says that my freedom ends where another person’s freedom begins. This is true not only in an individual context but also in collective contexts, including national ones.
This lies at the root of selfishness in present-day Central Europe. The institutional revolution of 1989 has not changed the soul and mentality of Central Europeans. Of course, Western Europe is also grapples with its identity but its struggle is fought along the axis world/Europe. The West justifiably equates itself with Europe and believes that the nations of Central Europe, even twenty years after the end of communism, are mere students who may be allowed to take the school-leaving examination and without passing it they will never enter, let alone graduate from, university. These days we enjoy with Western Europe a symbiotic relationship at the level of economy and security, but our social conscience has been shaped by a different experience of history. We cannot blame this entirely on communist totalitarianism. Our deficit of tradition, solidarity and freedom goes much deeper. As is obvious at every step, in everyday interactions, Central Europe lacks social capital and certainties; its citizens want to cheat the state and their fellow citizens; everyone is determined to get the better of everyone else; individual as well as collective hatred and envy are part and parcel of our mentality rather than the exception. We cannot and do not want to abide by the unwritten Western European (i.e. European) standards that define a citizen, a state and a humanely functioning society. Central Europe can only ever hope to get closer to the mental state of Western Europe if it changes its public narrative of what shapes it and what creates its social capital.
Only once we reach this stage will we be able to say that the velvet revolution has finally reached the souls of Central European citizens. This is our only option, the next step that has to follow the institutional revolution or transformation. So far we are still only at the preparatory stage, at which the old adage – homo homini lupus – defines society. This is something not even the greatest optimists of transformation, probably including Milan Šimečka himself, could possibly have anticipated in pondering the morass of moral trauma of our past. The trauma of the past twenty years cries out for public discourse with at least the same urgency as the discourse of the forty years under communism. But for the time being, in both cases, it is but a discourse of the deaf with the dumb.
Where Does the West Begin?
Chair Martin Bútora (Bratislava)
PanelAleš Debeljak (Ljubljana), Slavenka Drakulić (Vienna – Zagreb -Stockholm), Viktor Erofeyev (Moscow), Thierry Chervel (Berlin), Wendy Luers (New York)
Martin Bútora We shall start with a fascinating question – where does the West begin? This question has been with us for nearly a thousand years but very often it has been not just great thinkers, intellectuals, writers, civic activists, such as our guests today but also by armies and military leaders who have been deciding on the answer. As result of one such decision St. Martin’s Cathedral here in this city – known over the years as Bratislava – Pressburg – Pozsony – became the place where the kings and queens of Hungary, including Maria Theresa – were crowned.
And it was also politicians who decided that this city had to become a place from where we used to look across to the other side of the River Danube as if to the moon because, for 40 years, we had the Iron Curtain here. This was not just some sort of an abstract concept; it was something very real and very humiliating: we could hear what was happening on this border, sometimes we could hear dogs barking or the sound of gunfire but we could never reach it.
For the Polish historian Jerzy Jedlicki the territory between Germany and Russia was a suburb of Europe. Samuel Huntington located his imaginary line between the two civilizations somewhere on the border where Ukraine begins. Václav Havel not only sparred with Milan Kundera on the issue of Central Europe and whether the Russians had, metaphorically speaking, kidnapped Central Europe; he has also written several essays about where Central and Eastern Europe and also Russia begins and where it ends, what comprises Russia’s boundaries and her identity and what that means for us, the people of Central Europe.
And a recent Slovak documentary Hranica (The Border), by the director Jaroslav Vojtek, shows a completely nonsensical frontier, a village straddling the border of Slovakia and Ukraine, one that has been dividing people’s lives for many decades and continues to do so even now, in the Schengen era.
We are privileged to have gathered here a great panel of people who have much to contribute on the issue of where the West begins, what is Europe, and to what extent Central Europe is already Europe, and the various question marks hanging over its future. Our first speaker is Aleš Debeljak.
It is intriguing to note that while the Forum, under whose aegis we have gathered today, expressly calls itself Central European Forum, one would be very hard-pressed today to find any Central European markers or markers of a specific Central European identity. Because what is Central European identity? If you don’t ask me I know but if you do ask me I don’t know. So it’s very much like time and pornography. In the best-case scenario, Central European identity can of course be, and to my mind should be seen, as layers of identities. It is not exclusive and neither is it all-embracing; it is very much, as I see it, akin to the Scandinavian, Mediterranean, Iberian, Balkan identities. It is a supplementary identity that militates against the exclusive character of the national, or should I say nationalist, identity that we acquire by dint of birth and by the vicissitudes of citizenship.
However, this is not to say that Central European identity, the Central European landscape – a mental landscape, which I think might be the most accurate term as it is the least well-defined – is a figment of the imagination but neither is it enshrined in documents other than works of literary art and critical reflection. And in that regard I dare say, provocatively so, that while Central European identity was very much a hot topic of intellectual debates in the 1980s (in part but not entirely thanks to Milan Kundera’s essay The Tragedy of Central Europe) today, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that Central Europe was seized upon by the intellectual, cultural and – much later – political elites in order to distance the land they claimed to represent from both Russia and Germany.
So in that particular regard it was always the case that Central European identity needed an American facilitator, if you will, to distance itself from the German orthography. So it was not Mitteleuropa, as Nauman would want us believe but rather Central Europe. If you consider the main flagship publication of Central European ideas, the ideas forum where Central European dissidents, civic activists and affiliated intellectuals would cross their rhetorical swords, it was the New York Review of Books, on the other side of the Atlantic. The very fact that today we don’t have a magazine on European soil that would speak of and analyze the ideas of layered identities among which one also happily includes the Central European one, speaks volumes about the fact that what was Central Europe in the 1980s was really a convenient waiting room to enter Europe proper.
What is Europe proper or what was Europe proper – it was the then predecessor of the European Union, i.e. of Western Europe proper. You may immediately ask: but where does Western Europe start? Aren’t we part of Western Europe as well, in terms of the civilization that is grounded in the Enlightenment, in the domination of reason, in the sceptical mind, divorcing itself from the sui generis case of Russia and, at the same time, divorcing oneself from the Germanic mind with its discipline-driven and schedule-driven patterns?
Yes, we could certainly and constantly clamour for attention and say: We too are European and we jostle for the membership of what was seen as a prestigious club, the predecessor of the European Union before the series of enlargements. Today the European Union, as you know, pretty much encompasses the whole continent, having recently included the Balkan Rhythm & Blues, i.e. Romania and Bulgaria, so it really covers almost all of the terrain of the so-called old continent. But when you consider even the tourist brochures of many a city in this elusively-defined region between Riga on the Baltic and Rijeka on the Adriatic you will see how many towns and cities claim that they are the bridge or the meeting point between East and West: Vienna, but also Prague and Bucharest, indicating that the borders between the East and the West are elusive and, what is more important, shifting. They are shifting according to the contingencies of historical conditions and political expedience.
In that regard, just look over your shoulder to see that these provisional borders between the East and the West have often been moved around, from the rivers Oder and Neisse to the Carpathians or the mountain range of the Urals, indicating that belonging to a privileged club, or to use an old-fashioned word, to European civilization, really is not just a matter of volition, not just a matter of political will: you have to be seen as a member by others in order to really enjoy the privileges of membership.
Physical geography alone is not enough. It is the symbolic geography that helps lay the ground for the mental landscape of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Central Europe and all the other narcissistic, small differences that indicate the pathologies of reason in this elusive borderland between Riga and Rijeka.
What is important, however, is that the legacy of the Cold War is often lodged in our historical and personal minds to such an extent that we believe that the Cold War alone introduced the division between East and West, conveniently forgetting that the East and the West of the old continent go back to – and I will not say, although I could easily, to try your patience – to the ancient Greeks. What is more important is, of course, the Enlightenment paradigm in the 18th century when Western civilization began to fashion itself on the grounds of a largely urban experience and the experience of rapidly advancing, accelerated modernization which then, in due course, brought about industrialization.
On the other hand, the lands of Eastern and Central Europe have lagged behind. They have enjoyed the benefits of peripheral modernization only, and have scarcely had the towns of a metropolitan character where the intermingling of the variety of ethnicities, nations and nationalities and confessions could exist side by side. And if the legacy of the imperial period – that is, before the Cold War kicked in – is to be valid in any way at all, one could do worse than to look into the divided loyalties or rather, the multiple loyalties, that the erstwhile Habsburg Empire helped instil in its subjects.
And multiple loyalties are something we need to learn more about, something we need to cultivate. Based on reason, liberation and individual decisions grounded in choice, we need to adopt multiple identities, coming to realize that we are not just Slovaks, Czechs, Slovenians, Poles, Germans or French, that we belong at the same time to a variety, to a multitude of communities. Some of them overlap, some of them are in mutual contradiction, some of them are in conflict but we would do well to remember that the clash of civilizations, the conflict between the different civilizing patterns is not just a clash because when you have two civilizations, two cultures, two traditions, you always have contact, communication and possibly conflict.
It is always contact, communication as well as conflict, not just conflict. And in so far as communication teaches us the relative value of our own opinions and mitigates the exclusivist and absolute identity that is often claimed and that is often being imposed upon us by the ideology of the nation state, based as it is on the dominant nation – or rather: the dominant ethnicity – then, looking into the recent past and the more distant past that includes the imperial era and the period of the Cold War, we would realize that the one positive thing we have brought from our recent past is that we could and should be members of more than one community.
And so our – your – membership of the European Union is indeed an added value. It is an added layer of identity that helps transform a poster-like, one-dimensional identity based on the membership of a nation state alone, into a palimpsest of personal identity, of a personal mind in which various cultures, traditions, languages and confessions overlap and coexist inhabiting the same mind in a way that makes us open to the fact that he who knows just one knows none. And the lands between the Baltic and the Adriatic, the very absence of an exclusivist nation state, helps us understand and adopt the multi-faceted layers of identity that allow us to be more or less comfortably, at the say time, say, a Bratislavan, a Slovak, a Central European, a European and – for those of you with the most finely honed empathy, that is the ability to put yourself in the shoes of others – a member of humanity as a whole.
Aleš, thank you for outlining a number of ways in which one can think of Eastern and Central Europe. This desire to become part of Central Europe, to become part of this great civilizational change is something we might call symbolic geography. Prague, as you know, has always been known as the heart of Europe but a number of other Central European countries have now claimed this organ as their own. Here in Slovakia, too, there is a village with such an aspiration. And we are by no means the only ones, a similar claim has been made in Lithuania and in Western Ukraine. Let me now hand over to Slavenka Drakulić.
I will go back to the question of why we always ask what Europe is, where Europe is and where it ends. To me it indicates a certain amount of insecurity. For me, too, Europe is a mental landscape characterized by insecurity and shifting borders. We already have this picture in front of ourselves but then again, we have to ask ourselves: why do we have such a great need to define ourselves within these borders if they are indeed as shifting as they are? Let me give you some examples.
You might think that the division between Europe and non-Europe is not geographical but political. We could say it is the division between democracy, capitalism and communism. But in that case Slovakia, which 20 years ago was on the Eastern side and was part of Eastern Europe, is no longer Eastern Europe because it’s now a democratic country – so this is one example of shifting borders.
The other example shows this is not just a political but also cultural concept. One of my favourite writers, Ryszard Kapuściński, in his book Imperium quotes somebody – I think an official on the Russian border – as saying: Europe is where Russia is not. That definition was very useful for many years but I wonder if you can apply it today.
Then I would like to tell you about the case that I know best, that of my own former country, former Yugoslavia. I think it is an interesting and very peculiar case of a communist country that, while being in the East and being non-democratic, regarded itself as the West. Yugoslavia saw itself as the West of the East, as it was a kind of a bridge between the East and West, located politically to the west of countries such as Czechoslovakia. The Yugoslavs believed they were more Western than communist because we were free, we could travel, we were much better off and enjoyed more decent living standards. I remember the very peculiar, unpleasant arrogance of the Yugoslav people who would come for example to Prague, to Russia, or to Bratislava. When I was here for the last time under communism, I was wearing blue jeans and people would come after me, asking: „Do you want to sell jeans? Do you have some money to sell? Do you have anything to sell?“ which of course indicates how badly people lived here but also how much we, Yugoslavs were better off and of course, it reflects the fact that many people came here with the purpose of selling jeans. It’s a rather symbolic moment but, of course, I’m a writer so I can permit myself to talk about blue jeans on such a very serious occasion.
The reason why am I mentioning this is in order to illustrate the paradox of how much worse off we were later. This is the greatest paradox of the country that was the West of the East but also the East of the West, enjoying all the possible advantages of such a position at that moment – we could travel, we could buy and sell blue jeans and so on, and yet – as people often ask me – why was it that this country that ended up in a war? And the answer is: because we were much better off than you. Of course, I’m now pushing it too far and turning it into a metaphor. But basically, because we believed that we were better off, we did not feel the repression of the regime as much as those in the East who are now the West. Unlike the Czech Republic and Slovakia, we did not feel the need to establish a democratic political alternative. So, in short, while here you had courageous individuals, you had Charta 77 and Solidarność, we did not have anything like that in Yugoslavia. We – especially my generation – were the last believers in communism, or, as we called it, in socialism with a human face. We thought it was possible to live like that. Political freedoms – yes; but first give me a pair of jeans.
This is an example of shifting borders since from having been the West we have suddenly ended up being very, very far away in the East. Because we did not have a velvet revolution, we had no a revolution at all: instead what we had was war. In a way I do not belong here at all, I have no right to be here today because we cannot celebrate a velvet revolution in Yugoslavia. And the war was by no means a velvet war, it was not a divorce, it was a real war: the numbers are not certain but one or two hundred thousand people lost their lives and I don’t even want to speak about how many people were wounded and how many displaced. But it is all in the context of the story about the shifting borders. Because if we consider that the country was capable of creating not a velvet revolution but of making war, for reasons of repression, of not being prepared, because the only people who were prepared in that unfortunate country were nationalists – and beware of nationalism in every possible form, beware of any ideology in every possible form – then we come to these borders again.
Basically we now belong nowhere, we are in a limbo, waiting. And Croatia, where I live now and where I belong because of the accident of my birth and my language, is waiting to be admitted to the European Union. Waiting, always waiting, in a limbo. What is very important to understand is that Europe should be understood as a mental landscape with changing borders. It’s all a matter of perception: when I’m in America or Japan, of course I know that I’m European but once I’m here it’s different. When I travelled on a Croatian passport, I could not join the European Union line and always had to wait in the „other line. I would arrive from America and end up in this “non-EU countries” line. It wasn’t a great comfort that I was in the same line with Americans – my point is that I knew I was a second-class European.
And since the borders are changing all the time and it is a matter of a mental landscape and perception, we should think about two things. The first one is insecurity and fear and the other is that we should be much more flexible in how we define and think of what is and what is not Europe.
Mental landscapes with changing borders, these are certainly two important concepts. Next we have Viktor Erofeyev, coming from Russia, a country both admired and feared, a country of great hopes and great disappointments, of great literature and brutal politics. As President Putin once said to President Sarkozy when, during a visit, he said he would like to understand Russia: „ You know, we have this poem by [Fyodor] Tyutchev that says: Umom – Rossiyu ne ponyat‘ / Arshinom obshchim ne izmerit‘ / U ney osobennaya stat‘ / V Rossiyu mozhno tol’ko verit’. [You will not grasp her with your mind / Or cover with a common label / For Russia is one of a kind / Believe in her, if you are able.]. Viktor is one of those people who are able to articulate this mystery. Viktor Erofeyev Let me start by congratulating you on the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. It was a tremendous event and I was rooting for you; I’ve always been on your side, an ally of yours. Mind you, it’s struck me that the atmosphere in this room is rather subdued. Not depressed, just somewhat subdued. As if it wasn’t twenty years of a revolution we’re marking here but rather the death of our hopes and illusions. Instead of plush velvet the Velvet Revolution has brought dramatic changes. I think it’s not the revolution we have become disillusioned with but ourselves. We had been under the illusion that it was our democracy that vanished and when it was gone we started thinking about where Europe begins. Twenty years ago, through the Velvet Revolution you were promoted, like a soldier rising through the ranks, from Eastern Europe to Central Europe. And once you reach complete disillusionment with democracy, you will be promoted to Western Europe. Democracy is a great illusion that can be maintained only as an illusion. It might be said that democracy is the self-restraint of a great civilization and this self-restraint has to be practised not for decades but for centuries of a great civilization, bearing in mind all the while that it’s just an illusion. And that is quite an acrobatic feat. What does Central Europe mean for me? What is Europe in general? I don’t think that the boundaries of Europe are shifting. For me Europe stands for the ability to recognize oneself. It is a well-known fact that cats and dogs don’t recognize their reflection in the mirror. But Europeans do see themselves in the mirror. And that is what Europe is about – the ability to see oneself and to analyze oneself. This is what unites Finland and Spain, Greece and Italy – the art of self-recognition and self-analysis. That is why the borders remain the same. As for Western Europe and Russia, here in Central Europe – although I think it’s actually Eastern Europe but let’s not get into that, let’s just call it Central Europe (but then again, if this is Central Europe, where is Eastern Europe? Is it Belorussia? Is it Western Ukraine? In that case, Eastern Europe does not exist at all, and Central Europe, if that’s what we’re calling it, finds itself in a very strange position) – here in Central Europe Russia is perceived as a kind of a wall against which you bounce your intellectual tennis balls, constantly inventing new rules for the game: sometimes Russia is terrible, sometimes it is aggressive, sometimes it’s the country that sends you its tanks but then the rules change and different kinds of tanks might be dispatched, the tanks of Dostoevsky, the tanks of Chekhov, Pasternak, Solzhenitsyn, they will also arrive on tanks and will teach you how to live your lives, except that they will be deploying their own kind of intellectual tanks. The latter is the Russia you like, the former is the one you detest and that is quite understandable.
So what is Central Europe? It is located between two high-voltage zones. In my view what defines Western Europe is vanity. It’s a vanity fair generating various concepts such as freedom, competitiveness, capitalism, and so on. Vanity was born much earlier than capitalism and, strangely enough, it derives from a religious foundation, from an understanding of Christian truth, which only later took a materialistic turn. I associate Europe in general with vanity. To me Thackeray with his Vanity Fair is the quintessential European who recognized his essence. Russia, on the other hand, regarded as some sort of a spiritual unity, is a messianic country. It is a messianic country that considers itself to be better than everyone else. We are better because we are closer to God, we are the white angels while everyone else is a black one, or a black devil. This kind of thinking is deeply embedded in the consciousness of Holy Russia. This Messianism can be passed down generations in various guises, it can be communist, it can be religious, it can be simply imperialist but it does exist. And the in-between zone, the valley between vanity and Messianism is Central Europe, a region characterized mainly by doubt and, and it seems to me, dissatisfaction. Central Europe becomes active, becomes more strikingly interesting when it shows resistance. For example Poland, in its resistance to the Soviet Union, was a striking, wonderful country. I am not so familiar with Slovakia but my first wife was Polish and that is why I have some inside knowledge of Poland. It must be said that democracy, in general, in order to be revitalized, requires an enemy. Mobilization of freedom is more interesting than freedom itself.
It seems to me that Europe’s greatest problems, which go back more than a hundred years, are linked to Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead. God died for Nietzsche but Europe thought He died for everyone. That is why, in line with the laws of metaphysical degradation, this is a very painful process which has greatly weakened Europe with regard to Islam and with regard to fundamental Russia I’ve been talking about. This metaphysical degradation puts a question mark over the European meaning of life in general. We live in Europe but we don’t know why, we don’t really know what for. That is why our main contact with metaphysics is basically at funerals. Otherwise there is no contact and the loss of the meaning of life and its translation into social, economic and other areas is not sufficient for survival and real development in Europe, for a separate European way. I’m not saying that this degradation is profound but it does exist and it is noticeable. What we see is a decline in culture, a decline in the interest in the values that I consider primary. The Russian way of life follows somewhat different concepts. Members of the Russian intelligentsia spend all their lives searching for the meaning of life but they go to their graves without finding it. Their children keep looking for the meaning of life and they, in turn, go to their graves without finding it. Their grandchildren keep looking for the meaning of life and they too go to their graves without finding it. And this is how we live. By the way, Tyutchev’s lines about Russia that cannot be understood, only believed in, these are horrifying words. How can one only believe in it? Only a Russophobe could say such a thing, although Tyutchev was a great Russian nationalist. But misunderstandings always happen, you want to say one thing and you end up saying something very different.
Europe and Russia are two different cultures; Russia should not be regarded as a room in a large European house, a room that hasn’t been tidied up for a long time, eighty years perhaps, with lots of cockroaches and mice running around. No, Russia is not a room in a European house. Russia is a separate, dirty house. We are incapable of tidying it up properly. We are completely different. If you take the whole Russian system of values it’s very different from Western life, often contradicting the Western one and in genuine conflict with it. We have taken a lot from the East. When we finally liberated ourselves from communism we realized that we are the East. Under communism we had one Japanese restaurant in Moscow, now we have 500. We don’t have 500 French restaurants but we have 500 Japanese ones. If a young man does not invite a girl to a Japanese restaurant she will never have sex with him, let alone marry him. So we know in our heart of hearts that we have to wait and that we must not move. Russia is contemplative. In this respect we are like the Chinese and we know that if we wait long enough, eventually the corpse of our enemy will be carried past our house. Of course, it’s possible that our corpse will also be carried past our house while we wait and that when we ask whose corpse it is they are carrying, we’ll discover it’s ours. Things like that have happened in history.
Nevertheless, there is a very big difference. Euro-centrism claims that if you’re not European you’re nothing. But that’s not quite true. There is Chinese culture, there is US culture, which is also not European and in this sense Russia will never be Europe and there’s nothing wrong with that. Although it will always include some European elements – we have always borrowed a lot from you in Europe, for example, this ability to see yourself in the mirror I mentioned earlier – yet, while Europe aspires to the golden mean, to losing its pluses and agreeing to any kind of compromise, such as the compromise between Eastern, Central and Western Europe, in this sense Russia is a polarized country with the conviction that compromise – the golden mean – is a betrayal of one’s own soul. Although, on the other hand, we have an incredible unity, I think it’s only in the Russian language that the distance between Yes and No can be a million kilometres one minute, only to disappear completely in the next sentence. You have to understand that if a Russian says Yes, you should not be surprised if in the next minute he says No. A Russian has always, eternally, had this metaphysical doubt about his own words. Yes, the Russians are certainly very difficult to understand; they are unpredictable and present-day politics in Russia is also unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s happening in Russia today. I don’t know, nobody knows. I don’t think even Putin and Medvedev know what’s going on there, because Putin doesn’t know what Medvedev thinks and Medvedev doesn’t know what Putin thinks. Although initially they had agreed they would think together but when they could not agree they realized they would not think together. And now Medvedev has gone all ultra progressive: his recent speech in Parliament made our opposition seem like a bunch of total conformists. He said that everything in our country was bad, shamefully bad, horrendously bad. And now the censored Russian television doesn’t know what to do. Medvedev has appealed to the Russians to be wise and free. This is impossible for a Russian. He has appealed to some ideals that nobody knows where to find. Putin, on the other hand, has exhausted the potential of stability and of Chekist conformism so it’s not clear now which way to go. He has no resources left while Medvedev has great ideas but it’s not clear how they can be achieved.
So we are living in a very strange country, in a kind of Russian jungle. But it does not mean I think that next year Russian tanks will roll into Poland or Paris. Because our army is in a bad state, the army is not good at fighting and we don’t even know how many battalions and divisions we have ready to fight. The Georgians thought they could win, I also thought they might win, but as we’ve seen, it didn’t work out that way. The only thing that keeps us going is that life in Russia is so interesting. I live in Moscow, although I travel a lot around the world, and I find Moscow exciting. In Moscow you can understand the secret of human nature. When the daughter of Pasternak’s mistress was about to defect to Paris he said to her: “Listen, here you can blame communism for all the failings of the human soul, but in Paris you won’t have this justification for the failings of human nature.” Human nature is weak and in Russia the weakness, the imperfection of human nature is very clear, illustrating that in Russia as well as in Europe, the liberal, humanist idea of a human being is a complete fantasy. We are completely different from the way we have been depicted by the European culture and Russian humanist culture. We don’t know ourselves.
For us the symbol of Central Europe is Kafka. Kafka has painted the only picture that bears some resemblance to real life. We have invented ourselves and that is why we are hostage to our inventions. Russia, Moscow, where all cultures are laid bare, where life is crazy by day and by night, is paradise for a writer because there it is obvious that human nature is really something different. This is what I’ve been trying to look at and talk about. This is much more interesting than Russian politics, than Russian society or Russian nationality, which hardly exists. But for a writer who analyses what is going on in Moscow, how the people have responded to the transition from communism to gangster capitalism, shows that today we are really beginning to have a better understanding of human nature. It is a very complex knowledge and it’s extremely dramatic and much worse than we thought. That is why a writer in Russia lives in paradise. He has something to write about. I don’t understand writers who leave Russia. As for the reader in Russia, he lives in hell and I don’t understand why the reader doesn’t leave Russia. Maybe soon all the readers will leave and only writers will stay behind. Martin Bútora It is worth noting that Viktor Erofeyev, living in today’s Russia, enjoys this type of freedom and free thinking, albeit limited by censorship but nevertheless, he can s sit here with us now, he can return home where he has his own TV show, his books are being published, the Russians know him – maybe this self-analysis of freedom and freedom of thinking will eventually help Russians understand themselves and it might be useful for us too. Thank you very much. Now, having heard these varied views of people from Eastern and Central Europe on what European identity it, I would like to ask our next guest to tell us how these various images of ourselves interact and whether they can illuminate each other. We all keep talking at the same time, trying to explain what we are like but are we really creating a common space where we can see each other in a mirror and where we can find a common language or, if necessary, argue with each other? Thierry, the floor is yours. Thierry Chervel Seen from the West it always seemed very clear where the West ended: it ended 70 kilometres from Berlin or 70 kilometres outside of Vienna. There was a sort of nothingness behind the iron curtain. And then something started that has been described here: a process of looking into the mirror and learning about ourselves. Our Nobel laureate Günter Grass once said that the division of Germany was a sort of punishment for Auschwitz but he was completely wrong. Because it would mean that the West was enjoying the comfort and the East was punished. So, in a way, the only thing that could follow logically was the fall of the Wall. For West Europeans it was a very important process, which helped us learn that the East had much more knowledge, depth and space than the West had always believed. The country I know very well is France; my father is French, he has always lived in France and I know how little the French people, even French intellectuals, knew about what lay behind the Iron Curtain. They had no interest in it at all. And I think this is quite typical. For example, one might say that the French “No” vote was a French reaction to the enlargement of the European Union, that Europe at that moment became a sort of scapegoat in France for the enlargement process but also for the processes of globalization.
Sometimes I look at Europe and think she is like a very beautiful woman who does not know how beautiful she is. It does happen sometimes that people are not aware of what they look like from the outside; they tend to see only their own internal problems and their own ordinariness. It’s true, that if you live in peace, it’s banal in a way, but seen from the outside it’s extremely desirable. So Europe is always extremely beautiful seen from the outside and a little boring or banal seen from the inside. And sometimes it forgets to look in the mirror, as Viktor said, and it forgets how beautiful it really is but I think it’s important that Europe should know how interesting and beautiful and desirable it really is and also how much it is, or can be, a model for other regions of the world, since it manages to create peace. So there is one thing missing in this process and that is, perhaps, the mirror. Europe exists as a culture, as a history, as an institution, as an economic space but it does not really exist as a public sphere. You have separate national public spheres that very often don’t interact. There are many debates, like the debate today, which should be carried out in the European media but you won’t find them in the European media, which are always extremely focused on their national points of view and because of this the European Union often becomes a scapegoat for national problems. You can always say: look at the European bureaucracy, look at what it’s doing to us once again. This was the case in France, when the EU became a scapegoat for the internal problems of France.
What would be extremely important for Europe would be to create a European public sphere that would allow intellectuals to interact and facilitate debates that are sometimes also painful. An example of such a European debate that ought to take place: it is the debate about Islam and Europe, and Islam in Europe. Another debate that should be happening in Europe, in all the European media, is the one we are having here today: where does the West begin; where does Europe begin? Is Turkey part of Europe? These questions ought to be debated by European intellectuals; and the debate ought to involve an interested public in all European public spheres. I think we have opportunities to create this public space particularly Europe is also part of the larger process of globalization. The Internet is an extremely important invention that can help open up identities, generate communication and created new kinds of public space. I am the co-founder of a small website called www.signandsight.com in which we do a very simple thing: we translate key articles from German into English because we think there are some articles from time to time that are important enough to be read by the international public. For example, some months ago we published a very interesting and beautiful article by Herta Müller, before she won the Nobel Prize for literature. It was a long essay about the Romanian secret police, the Securitate, which was still active after 1989 and is still active today. It was translated on our website so the European public could read it and this was really interesting – it’s worked. For example, after the Nobel Prize, The Guardian called us because they had seen it on our website and wanted to publish it. So this is one way of creating European interaction.
So my appeal, which is also the motto of our website, would be: let’s talk European. There are two conditions attached to this. One is that it is important to adopt the English language. I think that today, if you want to express these multiple identities that Aleš [Debeljak] and Slavenka [Drakulić] talked about, the language in which you can express them is English. Perhaps in a hundred years it will be Chinese but I doubt it; I think English has, in a way, more of a future than Chinese because it’s simpler. And the other means of creating a new public space is the Internet. So one motto is to say: let’s talk European – I think Carl Henrik [Fredriksson] who is here – he runs Eurozine, a brilliant website which does a comparable thing to what I do – would agree. And the other thing is to say: translate yourself, don’t wait to be translated. Translate yourself into English, try to be part of this international public sphere. Martin Bútora I remember well a term that was used in East Germany. When they talked about the West Germans, the Ossies about the Wessies, they referred to it as drüben, over there, another land or another continent. This period is over but I think there are still some barriers that prevent people from understanding what life is like drüben. And the work that you do, and what you are encouraging us all to do, is extraordinarily important from the point of view of breaking down these walls, removing these barriers. And now to our final speaker: Wendy Luers. Wendy Luers Speaking as an American I couldn’t agree more with Thierry. I’m supposed to discuss with you a view from the West and what I’m really going to discuss is a view from America, from the United States, because that’s the only thing that I’m qualified to do. I’m not an intellectual. I used to be a journalist and I’m probably what you would call a non-profit entrepreneur or NGO entrepreneur. But it’s because I came here in the 1980s with my husband and I was captivated by the Czechoslovaks. There’s something about these people, about you, as Kafka said once: “This old lady has claws”. Once they get inside your soul you can never leave. It was important for us in the mid- 1980s to invite the most interesting people in Czechoslovakia to come to the American residence and the American Embassy, which was, after all, a free space. So Martin and Zora [Bútora] and Václav Havel, and all the others came. And what we learned from them is what the soul of this part of Europe is all about. And even though they were behind the Iron Curtain, there was a freedom in their souls that allowed us to see behind what looked so grubby and unattractive in their surroundings. Even in the beautiful city of Prague the communists did everything they could to make everything ugly, to make people look ugly; it was an awful period and yet there were these people who were letting us see inside their soul that has produced so many great writers and poets. And we had to explain – and this is very important to what I’m going to say and although it may sound a little brutal it’s important for everybody to understand – that we were in Czechoslovakia, not in Yugoslavia, because very few people in the United States could figure out the difference. Second of all, we had to explain that Prague was 200 kilometres to the west of Vienna. This was not understood by Americans and by the United States either, and I’m not sure if they know better now. People are talking about Eastern Europe, South Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe. These are all labels that are used in literature, in writing, in policy papers and – as our very astute speakers have said – it is not definable, it is a very moving and shifting situation, and frankly, from the United States policy point of view, I personally do not believe the concept of Central Europe is terribly important and I agree entirely with Viktor [Erofeyev] that Russia is different: the idea of a missile shield which all of you have been recently reading about, the idea that was supposedly about Iranian missiles but in fact it was about the anti-Russian feeling of the Czechs and the Poles. And Vice-President Biden had to come here to reassure the Central Europeans, the Czechs and Slovaks and the Poles that in fact, by not giving them Bush’s missile shields, which were not going to work anyway, it did not mean that we were abandoning them. But believe me, for the United States, and even for the policy makers and the New York Review of Books, and the Council on Foreign Relations, unless there’s a war or some flare-up, something dramatic, for all the attention that this region is getting right now, the hundreds of articles, CNN, and everybody reporting from Central Europe and Prague and Bratislava: it is just momentary and it’s not going to continue. There are other points of interest for the United States, countries like Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan.
It’s not a negative thing that the United States is not paying a whole lot of attention to this part of the world: it means there are no severe problems. We will have trade, we will have love, we will have connections but it’s not likely to be the centre of the United States’ policy or the centre of its attention. Now Russia is a very, very important country. The United States is supposedly the only superpower but we have to pay attention to Russia. We, the United States, have to have a relationship with Russia. As Madeleine Albright said the other day in Prague, Europe is very important to us and therefore the Central Europeans who are members of the European Union are important to us as part of Europe. Relations with Russia, too, are very important. The Slovaks are at one with the Spaniards, with the Cypriots and the Russians in not recognizing Kosovo, each of them for very different reasons. But this cannot be interpreted as the effect of the Russian sphere of influence. Each of these peoples are doing it for their own reasons, the Spaniards, the Cypriots, the Romanians, the Slovaks each have their reasons. So we feel very strongly as Americans that we just want a continuation of progress in this part of the world in every possible way and that we don’t have to have any kind of flare-up that would cause us to pay attention.
The last thing I would like to do before we open up to questions is to tell you a story. A number of years ago, my husband Bill Luers and I were having lunch with Henry Kissinger in Connecticut, and Václav Havel was there. This was in the 1990s and Bill said to Václav Havel: “You’re a man of peace, why do you want to join NATO? It’s a militaristic organization of armies: why do you want to join it?” And Václav said: “It’s the first club I can get into.” And that is what we’re talking about. We’re talking about clubs, what the United States sees as a club, as a grouping of countries and so that is what Central Europe is in the eyes of the United States. And so my first question is for Slavenka [Drakulić]: Do you think that the former Yugoslavia, all of it, and all the way down to Tirana, is part of Europe, that they should all come into the European Union, and does this have any geo-political impact? Slavenka Drakulić Thank you for this question, although I’m not a politician or a diplomat. If you had asked me this question about ten years ago, my answer would have been: yes please, take all of these countries that became independent after the breakup of Yugoslavia, take us all in. While some of the countries were aggressors and others were attacked, it would nevertheless have been good to let all these countries join the European Union at the same time. Because what else can one do? If you leave these countries outside, as they are now, they will cause problems. And what is the alternative? I think it was Viktor [Erofeyev] who said, that the Russians have bought almost the entire Republic of Montenegro. Yes, they have, they have schools in their own language, there are bilingual signs all over Montenegro. So if the European Union waits too long, somebody else will come and give them money. Now it’s a little late, because obviously these countries are not going to join at the same time. And the more obvious this is, the more the other countries, such as Croatia, believe they deserve to join first, not with the rest of the package, not with the primitive Balkans because, if you ask Croatian politicians and the Croatian people, we are – of course – not the primitive Balkans. It is too late for another, strategic reason, which is that Romania and Bulgaria, who were obviously unprepared, or less prepared than, for example, Croatia, were admitted to this exclusive club. And the result was that very soon it became obvious that they were not prepared and some money had to be withdrawn. But once the carrot has been taken away, once the country is inside, there is not much stick left, not many sanctions are available. For example, take Monica Macovei, who was the Minister of Justice who prepared Romania to join the European Union, and who put an enormous amount of work into anti-corruption measures. The moment Romania became a member of the European Union she got laid off. Thank you very much, lady, good-bye, now we’re going to carry on as before. So this is the problem. Now it’s too late, and I doubt if Croatia will join before 2012. Aleš Debeljak I’d like to make a few brief rejoinders. The first one is about the Messianism of Russia. I think it was Robespierre who said that people usually don’t like armed missionaries. However, they might like missionaries with fat wallets. Witness the wholesale purchase of Montenegro by the Russians. The other point is: whether or not the mental landscape of Central Europe with all its doubts, self-examinations and the dislike of its own image in the mirror matters to the Americans is beside the point. I do not think that it will be the Americans who will dictate the agenda of intellectual discussion in Europe. However, I did point out that during the Cold War it was thanks to the largesse and generosity, both financial and symbolic, of the American chattering classes that the New York Review of Books could be the major facilitator of the debates that ultimately reverberated across the Central European lands. On the other hand, I do think it’s of utmost importance that English as a lingua franca is now gaining more and more traction and is receiving more and more public currency. It should, however, be said that this idea of the lingua franca being English may not go down very easily everywhere, especially in the eastern part of the Old Continent. Why? Because the ethno-genesis of the eastern part of the continent, and its construction of the nation and national identity are entirely different from that of the West. The East European lands as a rule chose a single national poet in the later part of the 19th century, whose work was the very foundation of the political state, and in that regard it is the language and the intimacy with the mother tongue that is hailed as the be-all and end-all of many a nationalist across the East European lands. And that needs to be seen in the light of another division that separates the western part of the Old Continent from its eastern counterpart, and that is the fact that the 20th century ended for the West European nations with an exit from the exclusive mandate represented by the nation. On the other hand, the East European lands, having shed the communist yoke, have just come into their own, have just acquired the taste for the fully-fledged national life under the aegis of the nation state, so the 21st century started for the East European states with an entry into the nation. So in that regard the division is inevitable. However, more and more magazines, public forums and venues for an exchange of informed critical opinion, an increased number of venues such as Eurozine and signandsight, are crucial if we are to get to know each other, if we are to develop the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and to be able, if only for a fraction of a second, to see the world the way the other sees it. And this is what literature can do.
Translations are, of course, very important. Umberto Eco hit the nail on the head when he said that the language of modern civilization is translation. And in that regard I only need to quote the difference between two attitudes towards the translated text. The American poet Robert Frost famously pontificated that poetry is what gets lost in translation. However, the Turkish writer Nazim Hikmet countered this sort of exclusivist idea of the language as the be-all and end-all, the alpha and omega of the human existence with an attitude that I have personally adopted wholesale. He said that reading poetry – and here you can substitute for poetry anything with an intellectual content – that reading an intellectual essay or a poetic essay or poetry in translation is akin to kissing a bride through a veil. You still get to kiss her but, of course, it is not the natural state of things. But it’s still a lot better than being chaste and virginal. So in that regard, a lingua franca invites insemination left and right, it invites cross-fertilization, invites hybridity and creolization. More simply: the language of our times is characterized by hybridity, by multiple loyalties, multiple identities and the numerous attachments that we develop, cultivate and maintain. Slavenka Drakulić I subscribe almost entirely to what Aleš said. But I want to say that I’m unhappy that one thing about America hasn’t been mentioned here: one should give America its due for ending the war in Bosnia. Please remember, it wouldn’t have ended but for the intervention of the Americans. So: sorry guys. We Europeans, with all our magnificent history could not do anything. I think this is a very important thing. The other important thing is the language issue. This is the most important issue that we mentioned this morning regarding the future. Let me bring it down to a more practical level. There has been much discussion about how to persuade the Europeans, especially the bureaucratic structures, to use English as a working language. Not as a lingua franca, not as a common language, because we must take care what we call it. Why a working language? For the sole reason that – and I cannot tell you the actual figures just now – but a vast amount of money from the European Union budget is devoted to translating. And take a small country like Denmark, or say, Slovenia that has to be very much afraid of losing its language and becoming nationalist in this respect, and rightly so because languages die every day. But if you adopt English as the working language – after all, you cannot be in the European Parliament if you don’t speak English – then part of that money now spent on translating these mountains of paper that nobody later reads, could instead be given back to those countries for translating their books into other languages. This would be a very practical, and in my view brilliant, solution because we could have one working language and at the same time we could save money and democratically reinvest it in these countries. Viktor Erofeyev I want to say a few words about America. I write for the American press, quite regularly for the Herald Tribune, as you may know. Sometimes they reprint me in the New York Times and sometimes I write for the New Yorker. And I have to tell you that to work with the Americans is just as difficult as with the Soviet censorship. It’s a very strange country. For example, when I write an article for the Herald Tribune they have to print it in the New York Times on the same day, it’s a must. And their immediate reaction is: “Viktor, it’s a wonderful article but we have to change this and this and this”. And I think to myself: fuck you! What IS this, the New York Times or Pravda? Why are they asking me to change the substance of what I’m writing? It’s a liberal paper but they have their own idea of liberalism. There’s an 8-hour time-difference between New York and Moscow, and there’s a 6-hour deadline. And they write to me saying this and that has to be changed. But I stay put for these 6 hours. I just don’t react at all. I understand that if there’s censorship, it’s best to keep quiet. Six hours later they take a decision and cut everything they don’t like. And then they write to me: “Viktor, unfortunately, we don’t have enough room and we have to cross out this and that but it’s a wonderful article, it’s the best we’ve ever seen.” It’s a complete nightmare. And it’s happened not just once or twice, I even stopped writing for the New Yorker, although I love the paper, I love David Remnick, the Editor-in-chief, but you have to explain first that a chicken is a chicken and an egg is an egg. I wouldn’t like Europe to take too much from America. Europe should say thank you very much to America for having won the Cold War, for being the country that still fights for democracy, but there are things that I really would not like Europeans to emulate. I think America behaved very arrogantly when it came to the missile shield deployment in Poland and the Czech Republic. I was in Poland when the US decided to drop their plan to deploy the defence shield and I can tell you that Poland was mortally offended. And it seems to me that these games America plays with Russia, to prove it is still a very important country, are not a reason to offend European countries, I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think America is very important, it’s just important. Questions from the audience There are some forces at work in Europe today that are trying to impregnate Europe with various ideologies. I would like to know what should Europe look like, in terms of ideology. What language will be spoken at Doomsday? Where is Holy Russia headed? Why is this conference held in English and not in French or Slovene? What is the future of Russian-US relations? What is to be done about the corruption of the elites? Slavenka Drakulić I don’t believe in Doomsday so I don’t really need to answer that question. And anyway, I believe that English will be overtaken by Chinese in the future. As to why we are not speaking in our languages here – I could speak in Croatian but we don’t have a Croatian interpreter and most people would not understand me. And to clarify what I said about the European Union: I’m all for keeping the languages, what I want to get rid of is the bureaucracy. Thierry Chervel A common European debate is very important, especially on painful subjects. There are many questions that have not been answered yet and it’s always important to identify the sore points and we should perhaps do it in English because English is for us, Central Europeans, a neutral ground. You don’t have to be afraid that English will make the differences between us vanish – on the contrary, it is a way of articulating the differences, which cannot be done without a common language. Viktor Erofeyev I’m all for the English language. It’s a language Nabokov really loved. Nabokov said that English has the ability to connect the abstract with the concrete very quickly and this facilitates communication (although I’m not so sure about bureaucracy) but it’s a great language – it’s fast, clean and clear. So why should we try and invent another language of communication? Russian, in my view, is a shamanic language, it’s really interesting to think and write in Russian. As for the question regarding corrupt elites: I think corruption is part of human nature. Everyone is a bit corrupt, which does not mean bad. It is a part of us in the same way as sadism, aggressiveness, depression and all these bad things. And the elites feel they can act with impunity and that they can do all sorts of terrible things. Man is a weak being, he has to be protected, although not always. As for Holy Russia, I don’t know such a thing. This is a brand that now unites fascists with nationalists. Just before I came here I saw a video: people shooting from Kalashnikovs at pictures of “enemies”. I was included among those enemies. So, Holy Russia is not for me.
As for the relations between America and Russia, these are very complex. America is playing a double game here, which is understandable to an extent, but it’s very difficult to understand fully. I’m not an official representative of Russia and I have to say I don’t like current Russian policies but I must say that America, too, has got rather confused lately. Because if they are trying to support Ukraine and Georgia, talking at the same time of pushing the reset button with Russia, they are plying an impossible game. Ukraine now has its own position, it’s moving towards Europe and it seems to me that Europe does not support Ukraine enough; I would support it more if I were a European. Ukraine is a very complex issue and Brzezinski was right to say: “If you want to end Russian imperialism, you have to take Ukraine away from Russia.” I support Ukraine, I travelled there a lot during the Orange Revolution. But one thing you can’t do is to claim, on the one hand, that you support Ukraine and on the other hand to push the reset button with Russia. I am glad that Obama came to Russia, I’m a great fan of his. I think America has shown a great deal of maturity by electing him, especially after an idiot like Bush. Nevertheless, I can’t see any future for these relations. They are fake, not truthful. And people in Russia are very nervous. And to conclude I would like to ask a question. We are now marking 20 years of the Velvet Revolution but we are treating the young people of Russia extremely unfairly. These young people want to travel to Europe, they have a lot in common with the young people here and in Vienna and elsewhere. This visa barrier is completely hypocritical. This issue should be dealt with, especially by countries such as Slovakia, which understand Russia. Aleš Debeljak This was a wonderful demonstration of the imperial mind, without any regard for time constraints. All I wanted to say is that Europe is an ongoing discussion about itself, about its own nature and it’s based on cross-fertilization and inter-penetration, which we practise with the use of condoms and that is English.
The Open Society in Crisis Chair Martin M. Šimečka (Bratislava) Panel Karl von Schwarzenberg (Prague), Mary Kaldor (London), Brigita Schmögnerová (London – Bratislava), Willy Martens (Brussels) Martin M. Šimečka Welcome to Central European Forum’s second session, which will focus on the economic crisis and democracy. Twenty years ago we went through a major transformation thinking it would be definitive. We believed Francis Fukuyama was right when he spoke of the end of history because it seemed that democracy had won, especially capitalism seemed to have won, conquering communism. Today, however, not only does it seem that history has not ended, but that it has started accelerating as things nobody expected are happening. This crisis, as we all know, is the greatest since 1929. But it’s not only an economic crisis; it has significantly weakened – if not completely destroyed – the concept of capitalism we have been familiar with over the past 20 years and took for the only possible one. It has turned out we were wrong in some of our basic beliefs: that markets always behave rationally, that reality can be derived from market prices, that man is a rational homo economicus, that governments have to be as small as possible, safeguarding only civic principles and leaving the economy to business. On the other hand, when the crisis began, the fundamental question was: is this the end of capitalism? A year later, with hindsight, we can say that it definitely is not. To paraphrase the well-known saying: capitalism is dead, long live capitalism. The question now is: what should capitalism be like? Some say it should be kinder, more humane. But what role will governments play in all this? What sort of human beings can we count on in this new world following the failure of homo economicus? In a recent column in the New York Times, the American journalist David Brooks recently described his experience at a neuroscience conference. The latest behavioural economics has discovered that human behaviour might be driven by causes completely different from those previously assumed. He illustrated it with an example: the new neuroscience is now capable of scanning the human brain and the scans show that the brain of an American experiences pleasure when he can dominate or rule, for example in business, while in the brain of a Japanese the feeling of pleasure is triggered by subservience. These cultural differences affect economics.
Here in Central Europe we have been shaken in our belief in the way economy needs to be transformed from communism to capitalism, to which we have clung for the past twenty years. So in the first part of our discussion we will look at the causes of the collapse of a certain concept of economy and later about the future, what to do about it, how to keep going, what impact it will have on democracy, on the society we live in, on the whole world. I will now give the floor to Mary Kaldor who will outline the underlying picture of the causes and consequences of the crisis. Mary Kaldor Let me start by saying something about democracy and the market, and then I’ll move on to the crisis. A few years ago I was asked by the European Union to evaluate its democracy assistance programmes to Central and Eastern Europe. We decided to do this by organizing little seminars where we asked everybody: “What does democracy mean to you?” We were then going to see whether the [EU] assistance helped. When we held the seminar in Brussels, people listed a series of things democracy meant for them such as elections, freedom of assembly, and so on. When we held it in Eastern Europe we got completely different answers. In Poland somebody said to us democracy meant the bureaucrats were now our servants, even if they didn’t realize it. In Georgia a young woman said it meant we no longer had to think what our elders told us to think, we had to work it out for ourselves. And in Romania a young woman said democracy meant she had freedom to choose her life. The most striking feature was this huge difference in how democracy was understood. Actually, it’s a difference that’s recognized in democracy theory: the difference between democracy as procedures and democracy as the ability to influence the decisions that affect your life. The reason why I make this point about the difference between procedural and substantive democracy is because I think what happened after 1989 was the spread of democratic procedures without the spread of substantive democracy, or rather: that the spread of substantive democracy was rather weak. Why was this? Well, I know that in this part of the world people will say it’s the legacy of the past. One important reason has to do with globalization, with growing interconnectedness. It has to do with the fact that the decisions that affect our lives are no longer taken by national governments. The decisions that are really important to us are very often taken in Brussels, New York, Washington and so actually the freedom of manoeuvre of governments is rather limited. And the result is that national governments tend to become either instruments of integrating society into a more global set of arrangements at best, and at worst, they become simply instruments of patronage; hence all the corruption. So the first thing I want to say is that there is what we might call a global democratic deficit; there is a legitimacy crisis that is happening not only here – although it’s probably felt in a much more extreme sense here – but rather something we feel in other parts of the world as well. There is, if you like, a profound legitimacy crisis. Secondly, this legitimacy crisis – or, let me put it another way around – the global financial crisis that we’ve experienced over the past year is a symptom of something much deeper. At heart it is a symptom of a legitimacy crisis or a democracy crisis. I think money is actually an expression of power relations. So when we talk about the free market, it’s actually shaped by the institutions that determine, create and guarantee money. So what I think this crisis is about is really a mismatch between political institutions, which by and large were established at the end of the Second World War, certainly on a global scale, and between the enormous social and economic changes that have taken place since then. I think capitalism develops in waves characterized by different technologies. It started with factories, with the textile industry and it went on to the railways and electricity. One way of understanding what happened in 1989 is that it was the beginning of the crisis of the model of economic development that was nation-state led, dependent on mass production, dependent on physical workers, dependent on oil and energy. It’s this model that actually was already beginning to be in crisis by the 1980s. If you look at cycles of capitalism I think it’s very interesting that there are some phases when the free market is fashionable and some phases when state direction is fashionable, and it depends on where you are in the cycle. Actually, free markets are very useful for dismantling old systems and that’s what happened over the last twenty years: a dismantling of the old model of development. Free markets are also good for providing capital for new technologies so what happened was a huge development of information technology.
But free markets are not good at producing a new, different model of development. For that, you need politics. It does not necessarily need to be the state; it can be, and nowadays it has to be, global, regional and local institutions and that’s where we come back to this crisis of democracy. And since there is this big gap between the procedures of democracy and real democracy or substantive democracy – I don’t know if I would call it real because procedures are necessary – it’s very difficult for us to influence the institutions. Decisions are being taken at very high levels, which we somehow can’t influence; we can’t shift them, there’s no way in which we can transform the institutions. And yet, without transforming the institutions we can’t shift to a different model of development. So that, I think, is the challenge that we need to be discussing. Martin M. Šimečka Mary Kaldor has written a brilliant text [on the Open Democracy website] in which she discusses all these issues at greater depth, listing all the technological revolutions and also looking at what is ahead of us, and the fact that we don’t know what it will be like. However, the title of her article was Crises and Golden Ages, meaning we may still have a golden age ahead of us. Now, Mrs Schmögnerová, I look forward to your contribution. Brigita Schmögnerová I will begin with the crisis and what you said in your introductory remark. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), has recently published the Transition Report, a document that explains the transition paradigm, which was based on neo-liberal capitalism. The neo-liberal model, though was born in the seventies, has gained strength with the fall of the communist regime, generating the idea – almost a religion, a belief – of the self-redeeming qualities of the market. I highly recommend a Czech film called Městečko (Small Town). It is set in the period between the end of 1989 to the early 1990s and features the phrase „the market will solve everything“, that has become a sort of mantra. It became a religion but we also have to see a certain political, financial and economic context due to which this mode prevailed. The political context is obvious – suffice it to look at the map of Europe and remember who was in charge at that time in the United States and at the general constellation of political power in the world. But the financial and economic context was perhaps even more important because this model was strongly promoted by international financial institutions that have been under strong US influence. So the reason why the post-communist countries adopted this model – apart from the fact that they wanted it – is because it was necessary to strengthen our financial reserves; and in order to do it we needed credit, and the adoption of the model was a condition of receiving credit from the International Monetary Fund. But let me to go back to how the crisis affected all of this: the orthodox transition model was very simple, and it was based on three words: privatization, liberalization, stabilization. We might have expected that the crisis would have made the post-communist countries turn away from this model or reject it completely. Yet this has not at all been the case so far. In terms of privatization – have we seen a large-scale return to nationalization? Although we’ve seen quite a bit of it in the United States or in Great Britain, in this region there has actually been no sign of this on a large scale. On the contrary, the Polish government has recently announced a massive privatization programme. In terms of liberalization there are no signs of a significant change in these countries either. Of course, we are bound by our membership in the European Union, which means a free market within the European Union, but no other significant protectionist policies have been adopted either. Perhaps we could cast a critical look at the recent [Slovak] law on [dealing with failed] businesses deemed to be of strategic importance to the state; in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia more financial resources have been given to the state for supporting small businesses; but again, compared with what has been happening in the Western world, we can’t talk of significant protectionist policies. However, the one area over which a question mark does hang is stabilization. Naturally, the financial crisis undermines public finances on both sides because there is less economic growth and less money in the state budget, while on the other hand you have greater state expenditure in order to ensure social security for people who have lost their jobs; so there is a certain form of destabilization of public finances. So perhaps we could give a sigh of relief and claim that nothing is happening. However, the question is – is that good? Is it really good that we have this model that has caused this crisis to a large extent, yet we are saying, it’s all fine, let’s go on as before, let’s not change anything? It is inevitable that all these accumulated problems that have caused the crisis will stay with us and that they will multiply. And it is likely that the situation will not develop in the right direction in future. This, of course, will also depend on developments in the rest of the world. And here, I think, we are probably in agreement [with Mary Kaldor] – the future does not depend on our decisions but on further developments within the European Union, in the United States and elsewhere: on global development. Today we cannot say whether or not, as a result of the crisis, the model of capitalism that has clearly become discredited will be replicated. All indications are that answering this question won’t be easy or straightforward. In its current scale the crisis started just over a year ago – although there had been some earlier symptoms – and at its highest point the G8 and G20 governments were of course willing to do anything to slow down and to halt the crisis, especially the United States and Great Britain, while another group of countries focused on preventing a similar crisis from occurring in the future. At the G20 summit in Pittsburgh a compromise was reached between these two sides, and short-term steps were taken aimed at alleviating the immediate crisis; a serious attempt was also made to modify the model by introducing something that has been completely ignored in the past, i.e. the role of governments which, of course, ought to be compatible with the market. But governments ought to have a say when it comes to regulation, to resolving certain failings of the market, to providing a sufficient amount of what is called public goods and resolving some of the most striking imbalances caused by the previous model. In this country we have indulged in some navel-gazing and have not really followed what’s happening in the world but we should realize that the world is really very divided. I don’t just mean the North/South divide but also internal divisions, including the growth of inequality, growth of poverty, which has reached its height in this model and has of course been exacerbated by the crisis – it is now estimated that a further 90 million people will be plunged into poverty.
But let me come back to the point of whether the impact of the crisis really will be that powerful. Now that we are beginning to climb out of the crisis, I fear that governments may falter in their resolve to change the model, which was very strong at the height of the crisis. Unfortunately, if this model is not changed significantly we can be certain that with today’s technological advances –particularly IT that played an important role in creating global capitalism – we may be facing another crisis much sooner than many of us imagine, perhaps as soon as 2012 or 2013. But then the situation will be much more complex because whereas now the governments have some reserves that have enabled them to bail out the economy to some extent, this won’t be possible in future because they will have taken on credits for another decade or so, and it is very difficult to predict how they will cope in 2012-3. Martin M. Šimečka It is true that governments around the world, be they on the left or on the right, have embarked on large-scale nationalizations, or at least bought large stakes in banks or companies they don’t want to fail. From our point of view it looks like a scarecrow of nationalization, which we tried to escape 20 years ago. And it’s really interesting that in Central Europe, at least that’s my impression, the crisis hasn’t had any real impact on political and economic thinking and discourse. I mean not only in the media but also among politicians. It’s equally visible in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and the problem is that the Left has been using the crisis to lash the Right, although this cannot be really taken seriously as a sign of thinking about the crisis, it’s only demagoguery. Another matter is that the Right is not very willing to admit to society that perhaps not everything it had believed in was gospel. Prince Schwarzenberg, as someone who has described himself as a forester and publican, what is your take on all this? Karl von Schwarzenberg For me this crisis represents something fundamentally different from what has been discussed here so far. When we look at the development of so-called capitalism here in what was Czechoslovakia, and later in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – it may be different in other countries – the remarkable thing was that the new system was created by people who had grown up in the blessed era of socialism and who believed that everything could be resolved by changing a prescription or a system. There were some among them who had realized that the communist system was not working, that it was desperately lagging behind the capitalist regimes, and therefore they adopted the Chicago Boys’ doctrine or other religion, depending on their orientation, and introduced the new prescription as soon as they could. However, they did it in the same way as the generation of their fathers who, around 1948, had introduced the socialist system into this country: by simply taking and applying an existing prescription without thinking too much about the preconditions and foundations it was based on. Yet capitalism, when we look at it properly, has deep roots. It is interesting that the societies that created it, the 17th century Netherlands and England, had very strict moral codes and foundations. In England it was the so-called Low Church, in the Netherlands it was the Calvinist branch of the Protestant Church. Also that great admirer of capitalism in Western Europe, Margaret Thatcher, came from a strict Methodist family. But in this part of the world we thought we could use the prescription without its foundation, we still believed, as we had learned in Marxist theory, that the material base is primary and the spiritual, the ideas, the so-called superstructure, is only secondary. But in reality it’s exactly the other way round. It is the ideas generated by the human brain that form the foundation of which the material world is built. And this is the key error of our way of building capitalism. We thought we could just pull out the prescription from a drawer, just like in a factory we can pull out model No. 3 or No. 4, and all we need is to make a slight adjustment to the machinery, change some of the people on the production line and the new system will work. And it didn’t work, of course. Václav Klaus’s famous words, that there is no difference between dirty money and clean money, are indicative of this. Therefore, what we have introduced here is just, let us say, a farcical version of capitalism. However, while both the West and the East had gone through a profound moral crisis, here it was for a different reason. We recall 1968 as the year when we tried to liberate ourselves from the oppression of the one-party system and the Soviet Union, (additionally, in Slovakia there was the aspiration for a gradual separation from the Czech Lands) whereas in the West it was a profound social change that ushered the end of the post-war Biedermeier period. In the West, on the other hand, 1968 really represented a fundamental change in the whole of society. And part of this was the abolition of all, or nearly all, taboos. All previous moral, sexual and religious taboos disappeared, denounced as old-fashioned and as class prejudice. Those who did not live in the West in the sixties and the seventies don’t know how much changed then. When all the taboos disappeared, when suddenly there were no inhibitions in church or in bed, people thought everything would change, but that it would not affect money. But of course this was not true.
When a whole society changes, it also has to change in the areas where it the change is less desirable. And so the sexual relaxation was followed by a financial relaxation. To cut a long story short, when I look at the financial and economic situation, in the old days the old gentlemen bankers, whatever their political persuasion, acted honestly, they were aware that the money did not belong to them or to their bank but that it had been entrusted to them and therefore they treated it with very great care. But this generation passed away and a new generation came, particularly after 1968, and these people did not have such inhibitions. They saw a rapid increase in wealth all around the world and wanted a share of it as quickly as possible. And it’s true that, for a while, in the West, in the United States, Japan, Europe, it was possible to make quite a lot of money quite fast. However, the expectations gradually exceeded all bounds – if they had thought about it properly they would have realized it was not sustainable. The result was that, when the various new opportunities arose thanks to the new technologies, as Mrs. Schmögnerová mentioned earlier, thirty-year-old boys, and probably also girls, were managing huge sums of money, which their parents may have seen on budget spreadsheets but never had a chance to work with, and suddenly these young people had these huge sums at their disposal and of course they managed these amounts in the same way as a sergeant of the Hussars would handle money in a casino. And this is how the whole thing ended. So what I’m trying to say is that this does not prove or disprove that capitalism works. What has happened in the West and in the East was a complete perversion of the system. If you read about the fathers of classic capitalism – I am not at all a 100% advocate of capitalism but sometimes I have to defend it – they would never have dreamt of such possibilities and methods of managing money. Here everything just exploded and twisted the system. What I claim is that the foundation of our global crisis is rooted in a profound moral crisis. The sense of responsibility for somebody else’s property was lost and there was a lack of understanding of the basic principle that if I want to adopt a system, whatever it may be, I have to start at the beginning, I have to know its foundations, the thinking behind it and if I don’t know it then of course the result will be the same as putting someone in charge of running a nuclear power station after instructing him only that at 1:45 p.m. he has to push button No. 33, then when a green light comes on, he has to push button No. 47, and so on. So he will have a prescription for everything but no idea what a nuclear power station is, what the energy sector is and what it’s all about.
And now we have lots of people sitting in key institutions pushing buttons, looking at computer screens, reading instructions manuals and following them without any idea what it’s all about. And this is the great problem of our times. I repeat, it’s not a matter of technical skill or the failings of single individuals. Robbers, bandits and marauders have been part of mankind from earliest times. It’s only natural, each system has its fair share of thieves and robbers, it all depends on what opportunities we give them. But the main problem is that we have declared thieving a healthy, integral part of the system. So, first of all, we should give some thought to the roots of our thinking, to the foundation of each system and what gives us the greatest freedom. And let me stress, particularly today, on 17th November, that when in doubt, when we’re not sure which one of several options to choose, the choice that gives us the greatest freedom to decide is the correct one. Martin M. Šimečka Mr. Martens, our previous speakers have described how capitalism has failed, especially morally. As the President of the European People’s Party, a huge community of politicians in Europe, could you say a few words on how you see the crisis and its roots? And perhaps, as a conservative politician who believes in free markets and in capitalism as our only path, could you briefly outline your perspective of the crisis and the failure of some ideas of capitalism and the free market? The floor is yours. Willy Martens It is a great privilege to be here today with you, particularly on this special occasion. 20 years have passed since the non-violent revolution in the former Czechoslovakia that saw the fall of the communist government. And I think I can say that Slovakia and other Central and East European countries have changed beyond recognition since then. They travelled from the former communist system to the birth of democracy and freedom. And they travelled through political and economic reforms to full integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures. Today, if one measures Europe against the expectations of 20 years ago, it looks much healthier in political, economic and security terms than had been expected. But I think we should not take that for granted. This is the worst financial and economic crisis since the Great Depression and it requires competence, determination and foresight; it demands vision and not ideology. For example, the experience of the crisis of the 1920s and 1930s shows that nationalisation, protectionism and deficit spending are not an effective response. And neither should the crisis be used to advocate against a strong Europe. A lesser Europe would quickly leave us unable to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. Beside the crisis, Europe also faces a number of new cross-border challenges. You know them very well: climate change, energy security, nuclear proliferation, global pandemics, demographic change and global poverty. Many of today’s problems can no longer be solved on a national level alone. Your experience with the former communist regime, the oppression of free will and systemic neglect of human dignity means, I need hardly tell you, that the state should not be responsible for every decision in people’s lives. My idea of Europe derives from my attachment to the values of an open society and the common European cultural heritage, a diversity of cultures and languages. We have become used to living in a shared geographic and political space of peace and freedom, democracy and prosperity. As part of our society the economy needs to follow the very same values on which our societies are built. And there are two key words: freedom and responsibility. The crisis we are witnessing today is not the demise of capitalism, but the result of a failure of supervision and regulation, both in Europe and the United States. That is why I am convinced that today’s economy needs as many market and private initiatives as possible, and as much state intervention as necessary. Martin M. Šimečka So we have outlined what the basic pattern has been; Prince Schwarzenberg has described the moral failure not just here but also in the wider world. Nouriel Roubini, one of the few people who had warned of the impending crisis, now says that another crisis is on the horizon. He points to looming inflation, a weak US dollar, huge state indebtedness with household debt spilling over into state debt, the banks being reluctant to lend, and people, on the other hand, economizing. At the same time, a huge mass of money is in circulation without knowing where to go; a bubble has started to grow on the Asian property market. Let us try to focus on two questions: is it possible that the crisis will recur? Is it possible that another one is coming and why? Have we not learned our lesson? And at the same time, regardless of whether another crisis comes, what are the prospects for the future? What will our future look like in a world that has been through such a shock? What will the world look like? Mary Kaldor Well, these are very big questions. As I said, I think this crisis is about a mismatch between our political institutions and the profound changes that have taken place. In a way, you could draw a parallel with the 1930s. The 1930s were the crisis of the previous model of development: on the one side you saw these huge increases in productivity thanks to mass production, but on the other side there was nobody to buy the products. What actually happened was that, in their desperation to continue to make profits, the financial markets started to think up all kinds of innovations, all kinds of ways of investing in finance that resulted in the bubble of 1929. This is the same sort of thing that happened now. On the one hand, we’ve had a fantastic increase in what we can do through information technology; on the other hand, we are still stuck in an old, very unequal model. And unless we start applying those new technologies to new needs, of which the most important, in my view, are energy saving, protection of the environment, and dealing with climate change, we can’t continue to sustain our economies. I’m not just saying that the economies have got to be sustainable in the sense that they will not destroy the planet – which they will do if we continue with the same model – but we can’t continue to make the kind of productivity increases that produce the profits that can then be invested in the future. So actually, what we need now is to start to construct a green infrastructure. But we can’t do that on a purely national level, we need to be able to do it on a European and global level, and we can’t do that without people being very active in trying to bring about change. Our big problem at the moment is that politics is local and national, political parties are very traditional, yet the change we need is regional and global and we don’t have a mechanism for that. So somehow we need to build a global civil society, we’ve got to find a way to square the circle and start a period of dynamic new development which is much more sustainable than what we had in the past. Martin M. Šimečka Yes, that sounds really great but, in spite of this, Mrs. Schmögnerová, what I find fascinating is that now, there is a big debate and the US President has accused the bankers of paying themselves million-dollar bonuses from money they received from government stimulus payments. And this immorality has become, in a way, a symbol of this crisis, from which we have apparently not drawn any lessons. As you yourself said – what happened in Pittsburgh was just a compromise that does not promise fundamental changes. What is the cause of this? Mary Kaldor says we still have traditional politics although the problems have become global – is it just this problem or are there reasons why, in spite of the global discourse about the causes of the crisis, politics hasn’t really changed that much? Brigita Schmögnerová I think Mary Kaldor is largely right. Politicians want to be re-elected. They are elected to national parliaments and governments by their national electorates. That is why they always care more about national problems. As we say: charity begins at home. At the same time the electorate is not sufficiently prepared to understand that it is other fora that take decisions on fundamental questions affecting our future, the future of the European Union, the global future; that it is not the Slovak Parliament or Slovak government that decides, and that they ought to keep their eyes wide open and not let local politicians looking at everything solely through a local lens. Let me give you a specific example. You will remember what the disagreements in the European Union were about when the crisis was in full swing. Mrs. Merkel, the German Chancellor, was totally against all EU countries sharing the responsibility and investing in the prevention of a further round of the crisis through so-called financial stimulus packages, i.e. everyone agreeing to make a contribution. On the other hand, Great Britain, the EU country that has been most affected by the crisis, has decided to follow the path of the US, investing massively in stimulating the economy in order to prevent the crisis from getting even worse, to prevent deflation and to stimulate domestic demand. So they could not even agree on such a basic thing. So the dominant interest here is that of the politician, linked to his or her political career and constituency and the result can be – and already is, as we have seen – that there is no consensus that might curb the excesses of the current model of capitalism. But let me return for a moment to the moral angle. Certainly, and I think the applause has confirmed this, everyone in the audience here understands the importance of the ethical dimension. However, there is no point talking about the ethical dimension to those who got the global economy where it is today. To put it briefly, we need some rules of the game that will prevent excesses like the ones we have seen recently. And these rules have to be enforceable; states have to be “strong” to be able to enforce them.
What we need now is a certain consensus: all the key financial centres should agree to act in a similar way, as the discussion in Pittsburgh indicated. There is a very close link between the political dimension and the economic impact and if we cannot overcome the one-dimensional, narrow view limited only to our own perspective and don’t realize that decisions that affect us are not taken just in our country but also elsewhere, I don’t think we can make much progress. Martin M. Šimečka Prince Schwarzenberg, how would you respond to this as a politician? Karl von Schwarzenberg I’d say that I do agree with Mrs. Schmögnerová in one respect. It is a natural and old principle: the more freedom we have, the clearer and firmer rules we need. And coming back to the ethical dimension, I would like to stress that the people in the financial sphere, in the banking sector and so on used to adhere to certain unwritten rules that often carried more weight than the laws of their countries. I’m an old man now and I used to know many old, dignified bankers who told me about these unwritten rules, for example, once you gave your word you had to stick to it. All this used to keep the system together. As soon as we introduced the anything-goes principle, all this went. Of course, part of the development of the past forty to fifty years is that we’ve kept telling people that everyone has unlimited possibilities. However, this is not true, everyone’s possibilities are limited and in order to survive, as in a jungle, everyone has to stick to certain rules. But we threw these rules overboard too quickly and everything that followed was just a result of that. A blind trust in legislation is an eternal illusion of all legislators who believe that laws can replace ethical principles. For if you’re clever, you can get around every decree, every law, as we have seen demonstrated a few times. The more complex and refined the system, the easier it is for clever people to get around it. The crisis is upon us and we have to be prepared for other crises to follow. We have to realize that our golden age, the pan-European golden age, is over. While in the 50s, 60s and 70s we could flatter ourselves that Europe was the world’s second greatest economic power, in the meantime European economy has started showing so many signs of ageing, of old-age senility and absence of new ideas that it is becoming obvious that we have started sliding down to the third, fourth or even the fifth rank in the global economy. If we note that the global list of top universities does not feature a single European university apart from ETH Zürich in Switzerland; or if we look at the patent records in Europe, not to mention in our countries, it’s obvious where things are going. Yes, we have to get used to gradually being poorer, first in relative terms but later also in absolute terms. We have to get used to the idea that our children and grandchildren will be much worse off than we have been. And although Western Europe has accumulated a lot of riches because we’ve had fifty years of peace, which something unprecedented in European history, making everyone richer, including the proverbial German cleaner who regularly used to holiday in Spain or Turkey, we have to accept that these were just symptoms of this. Yes, we have all got richer. And of course, the standard of living, even in 1988, was much higher here than in 1948. This is absolutely understandable – we lived in peace and we did have growth, albeit much slower than in the West, but nevertheless, we did get more affluent and this was especially visible in Slovakia. But this era is now over. I am afraid we will have to get used to being 4th or 5th rank and to the fact that our affluence will continue to diminish. And if we don’t change our approach to science, research and work, we will sink even further. This will be our own individual contribution to the economic crises to come. Martin M. Šimečka These were dramatic words, Prince. Mr. Martens, as a European politician, do you think Europe will survive the decline in living standards and the contradictions that the crisis has clearly uncovered, when the economies of countries like Italy or Greece, not to mention Ireland, have been so badly damaged that they have to be propped up by Germany? Does the prospect that Europe will not survive this fundamental change we are facing, as the Prince said, in a unified way, cause some scepticism and worry? Karl von Schwarzenberg It is, of course, quite possible that some minor changes will occur, and that not all European countries will be able to keep the Euro as some financial experts claim. Let’s face it, the fact that the Czech Republic has retained its currency is one of the reasons that have allowed it to be a bit more flexible than its neighbours over the past few months. Everything has its advantages and disadvantages; we should not turn the currency issue into an ideological matter and treat it rather as a practical matter; everyone has to know what they are responsible for. However, what would really result in a loss of prestige for the European Union, a loss of the European idea would be if it indeed turned out to be necessary for one of the European countries to go back to its national currency. I hope this will not happen. That’s one point. This is inextricably linked with the irresponsible approach to the economy all over Europe. It’s true that the Greeks, for example, are almost a textbook case of wasting resources far above their means; they have also relied on European funds to unprecedented levels expecting this to go on forever. But when we look even at some major European countries, we have to admit that their budgetary policies over the past few years have been quite irresponsible too. We have to be honest about that. Of course, politicians are usually not the kind of heroes who relish dealing with difficulties. For example, only a few years ago German Chancellor Angela Merkel introduced a tough programme of reforms in Germany; everyone who knows Germany knows how necessary they are, yet it nearly cost her re-election and when she realized she could win by changing policies suddenly there was no more talk of reforms. And it’s similar in other European countries. All over Europe, from Sweden to Germany, from France to the Czech Republic we have not yet got used to the fact that there won’t be continuous growth, that we will have to get ready for leaner years, that there will be less to go around, that we won’t be able to afford a bigger car and a second holiday. We will have to get used to it but most politicians are cowards and don’t like to say this to their electorate because it doesn’t sound attractive. They hope that by some miracle money will materialize and it will somehow be possible to sustain the system without a single one of them being able to tell you how it should be done. That is why another bubble is going to appear, and this time it’s not so much the fault of those criminal capitalists but of those governments that are behaving irresponsibly, claiming and promising that all those programmes they have launched over the past few months can pay for further growth of the economy without a shred of evidence that the growth will be so strong and so fast that they will be able to pay those debts. Thank you very much. Martin M. Šimečka Mr. Martens, what are your thoughts on Europe and the future of the crisis? Willy Martens Europe has proved in the past that it can take very important measures and reforms. I participated in the negotiation with Helmut Kohl and President Mitterand to create a single market back in 1985; as Prime Minister of my country I participated in the negotiations of a second fundamental reform, the creation of the economic and monetary union. What would be the situation of our various countries, in the banking and financial crisis without these two reforms? Take the case of Ireland. Ireland received 25% of the European Central Bank funds. Compare it with Iceland. Iceland is not a member of the EU. It is bankrupt. That is the difference. That would be our situation. So politicians can also have a vision and realize it. But it needs courage, you have to defend it, you cannot complain: oh, it was a Brussels decision and we are not responsible. Second, the bubble. I don’t like capitalism. We are in favour of another system, one we call social market economy. And for us the economy has to be at the service of the people. That’s our vision. And when I see that at the University of Philadelphia, for years and years, 200 young experts were developing the sophisticated system that poisoned our markets, then I can tell you that something is lacking in the United States if this was accepted and none of the economists foresaw the crisis. They will always tell you what the reasons were afterwards but never before, always afterwards. So we need a moral basis also for the banking sector and for the economy. I agree that rules will not solve everything. I remember from my student years a Latin expression: quod leges sine moribus – what is the validity of the laws without an ethical, moral basis? And so we have to accept a new basis for the economy, to accept moral responsibility, we have to accept rules. I agree: the greater the freedom the stronger the rules have to be. What do we need today? We need sustainable jobs. I agree we have to do it in green investments and I think we need a transformation of our economies. That’s clear to me. Two or three years ago we in the European People’s Party developed a very radical programme on climate change and we accepted these rules. And I also believe that Europe should become less dependent on fossil fuels. We need research and innovation and we need – it’s a terrible word but I will use it – employability of the unemployed: we need to create other conditions for people to have a job and to keep their job. I am convinced that all this cannot be realized without decision-making on the global level and in any case also on the European level.
In my two years as President of my country I made more than ninety state visits and I can tell you that none of our countries can respond to the challenges of this globalized world alone. Compared with the new, emerging continents and countries, not just China but also India, Brazil – what kind of talent, power, vision, engagement do we have? In order to defend – and that’s my answer to your question – the old living standards, the old system of social protection, we have to have a common framework, we cannot do it if we stay alone. And even the so-called bigger members states of the EU such as France and Germany cannot do it alone. We have to act together. We don’t need a European super-state. We need a European Union based on the principle of subsidiarity. It means that for a lot of competencies (accepting diversity of languages and countries in Europe) we need devolution and decentralization. Not everything has to be decided in Brussels, but some competencies have to be decided together, otherwise we will not be able to respond to the globalized world. And we also need market economy. A free market but corrected, adjusted so that it includes a social dimension, so that it takes into account problems of climate change and ecological problems. But we also need a social correction of this system. What we need is not capitalism but an economy that serves the people, with a moral basis, with rules. And we also have to make the private sector more dynamic and give it all these opportunities. This new approach is also clearly outlined in the Lisbon Treaty that has finally been accepted also by the Czech Republic, and signed by its President – it includes the social market economy as one of the goals of the European Union. Martin M. Šimečka The Slovaks don’t need convincing – they are true believers in the European Union. Don’t worry, this is perhaps the most pro-European nation in all of Europe. But, as I’m listening to this, let’s return to Central Europe. The Prince has said that capitalism has failed morally because capitalists are immoral. One of the options is green technology. But is anyone here in Central Europe talking of green technology? This topic is absent here. Another option – the state sets the rules. But here in Central Europe, who believes in the state? After twenty years people here feel a profound frustration with the state. So where is there a glimmer of hope that we will ever climb out of this crisis and head towards a better future? My last question is addressed to Mary Kaldor. There is a scepticism in Central Europe that the system can be repaired. Does this crisis not endanger the very principle of democracy in post-communist Europe and maybe beyond this Central European space? Mary Kaldor Yes, I think the crisis is already endangering the principles of democracy. As I tried to explain, it’s because democracy is not just about elections. Elections are a necessary condition for democracy but democracy has to be more than that. People have to feel they have a stake in society and that they can shape the future of society and I think that’s a huge problem all over Europe, especially here. There’s a profound distrust of politicians and of political parties and there’s a huge gap between how people see their own situation and how governments see it. I was thinking as Mr. Martens was talking: everything he said was great, he’s the leader of the People’s Party – so why is it not possible to put this into practice? Why is there a gap between your programme and reality? After all, it’s the conservative parties, or Christian Democrat parties, who are in power. And I think it’s that frustration, what we see at the moment is a huge distrust of established parties, a tendency towards xenophobia and chauvinism all over Europe; not only in Central Europe but I think all of these things are experienced much more acutely in Central Europe than they are in the rest of Europe. There were two other things I wanted to say, if I may. One was the issue of the moral basis. I very much agree with that. But I think capitalism goes in cycles and we have phases when there is a sense of social responsibility, a sense that we have a social model to follow and there are phases when it suddenly becomes fashionable to do your own thing. And that’s what neo-liberalism was all about. Suddenly it was all right to be selfish. Suddenly it was all right to make money, it was going to be good for capitalism. And it went too far and now we need a different moral basis to get away from that. The other thing I wanted to say, having sounded quite pessimistic, was to oppose Prince Schwarzenberg’s pessimism – because actually I think the right thing to do in this situation is to spend money. I think the situation would be much worse if we didn’t. The question is – what do we spend it on? Because you’re absolutely right, we can’t go on spending money on more and more consumer goods and more and more foreign holidays. But if, instead, we spend money on finding ways to protect the environment, to save energy, to satisfy people through knowledge and education – if we put the money into that, I think that would lead us in a much more positive direction. Brigita Schmögnerová We are not used to talking about a social market economy in this region. Let us go back to the early nineties and I’m sure you will recall the then Minister of Finance, later Prime Minister and now President who used to call for a market economy without any qualification. And until recently it was not fashionable to speak of a social market economy although – and I’m glad it was you who said it – the EU has been built on the cooperation between social democratic and Christian democratic forces that have jointly developed the concept of the social market economy. We will probably all agree that it is necessary to have an economic mechanism – clearly we no longer have to argue about planned economy – which will make it possible to increase the pie that we call GDP. The question will then be how to divide it. And this is the difference. It needs to be said that Europe will have to tighten its belt a bit. I’m no longer a politician, but try going to some Slovak villages and telling this to people who have been jobless for years and are barely surviving. So, what I’m trying to say is that a social market economy is about ensuring that the pie gets divided a bit differently so that the huge economic differences that have appeared here don’t turn into a breeding ground for something that will threaten democracy, for extremist right-wing or left-wing political parties that might create a situation in Europe that none of us would like to see. Karl von Schwarzenberg You have mentioned the early nineties, a period when I was only following the discussion in our countries from afar, and with some amusement. As I have already said, in our countries we were brought up – not just by communism: it had started earlier – on the basically Marxist view that capitalism is evil per se. But the so-called Right and the so-called Left drew different conclusions from this. Those on the Left said it was evil and therefore it had to be suppressed and banned, and its representatives had to go to jail. Those on the Right said yes, we were brought up believing it was evil, so probably it is evil but a necessary evil which will be beneficial to us so we have to accept it lock stock and barrel. We shouldn’t mind that there will be theft, that laundered dirty money will be given the same value as clean money. Actually, it all derives from the same original viewpoint, except that some have accepted it completely and the others have rejected it. But the basic problem was the same – none of them were interested in the fundamental underlying principles. The concept of social market economy was developed in the 1950s, by people such as [Walter] Eucken and [Ludwig] Erhard. It was a great idea but the question we are facing now is what will happen if this pie we’re talking about stops growing; if, on the contrary, it starts shrinking and disappearing until one day it will no longer be a pie, and all we are left with to divide is a tiny little doughnut. And this will be the real crisis for European thinking. The lesson we learned from the Second World War and from the bad times of pre-war unemployment, which then led to extremism here in Europe, is that we did become aware of those problems and that made us think of how to create a more just system, how to help those who are poorer, how to divide the pie in a fairer way. Yes, that is all true and that is why for 50 years we were quite successful. However, we also had growth for those 50 years. Today we have to think – and this is something politicians, including myself, don’t like doing because it’s a rather unpleasant thought, a hard thought – what will we do when there is no more growth or, as it’s sometimes called euphemistically, if we have negative growth? How will the pie be divided then? That will be really difficult because we will still have to fund research, schools, development in order to increase our competitiveness, we will have to invest in our future and therefore, for a generation or two, we won’t be able to spend so much on consumer goods. We have to be aware of this, as this will be the problem for future generations. I will probably only live to see the beginning of this, then I will only watch from above or, sweltering in the heat below, but I can see that this will be a problem for our children and grandchildren. And we have to realize, before it is too late, that this famous European system of ours that we have been enjoying for most of our lives may not last; it may not prove suitable for the more difficult times.
Questions from the audience There are some forces at work in Europe today that are trying to impregnate Europe with various ideologies. I would like to know what should Europe look like, in terms of ideology. Even if we survive this crisis and solve the current problems, are there any guarantees that unethical and selfish politicians, who have only their short-term interests in mind, won’t bring about another cycle of crisis? If there is a problem in a family, with someone behaving in an antisocial way, it is usually resolved within the family, only if that fails someone on the outside is asked to step in. I’m sure you bankers all know each other and know who is who and who the thieves and the fraudsters are – although I don’t doubt that you, personally, are decent people – but I wonder if you have the strength to sort things out among yourselves or whether you expect someone from below to do this for you? Do the emerging economies, such as China, Brazil or India pose a greater threat than we think? They don’t care about green economy and they might push Europe backwards, while we are trying to deal with ecological problems? Mary Kaldor As the Prince said, I think it’s absolutely essential that we change our mindsets. I don’t think we have to be so pessimistic. This is twenty years after 1989 and the significance of 1989 is that it changed the discourse. If we think what the impact of those revolutions was, it is the language that came from this part of the world, the language of civil and human rights; it is the language that has really changed, the way we talk about the world in very profound ways. And if people here are capable of that, they are surely capable of the kind of mental changes needed to face the new challenges. Willfried Martens This is also about the emerging economies and climate change. We in Europe and also the newly elected US President have an enormous responsibility for this. We hope that together with the US President we can convince the rest that without decisions disaster looms for the whole world and life on the planet. Without decisions we are headed for a disaster. It is urgent. Secondly, I agree that especially since the Second World War there have been tremendous developments: we have accepted fundamental rights, created institutions, abolished the death penalty, we now have tribunals and (I hope) no dictator is safe in the world any longer. These are all examples of the progress we have made. But we are confronted with a lot of very important problems: global property, climate change, pandemics and so on. But the awareness and the sense of responsibility have certainly grown in this world based on respect for every human being. And that is extremely important. There is a negative element too. You spoke about distrust of politicians. I think the phrase – perhaps it is the Anglo-Saxon influence – “to make money” did not exist for my generation; when we entered political life we never spoke about money. Today it is important and you can no longer convince a lot of young people to accept responsibility and engagement in the public service with all the limitations concerning money. And that’s a negative element. But I am optimistic. I think that through education and through an awareness of the challenges in this global world we can raise young people who are ready to accept responsibility in public service and in society. The other thing I’m not so pessimistic about is that the new powers are not doing anything about green technology. I think that Brazil, India and China are all taking measures and are planning to take measures, especially if rich countries are prepared to support those measures. Brigita Schmögnerová I’d like to make a couple of points. The developments that have caused the fundamental, perhaps irreversible, climatic changes are probably the result of the way the economy was managed in the northern hemisphere, particularly in the most developed countries: USA, Great Britain, France, the G15, EU. That is why the developing countries and the emerging economies are quite justified in saying: you have brought this about so you should pay for it. The question now is whether these countries that have contributed to the climate change will be willing to help the emerging economies to improve the environment, make their economies greener, to separate economic growth from further pollution of the environment. They are making an effort: China has even overtaken Germany in developing technologies based on wind farms and solar energy; they have started mass production of electric cars. Of course, China keeps building hundreds of power stations running on coal and so it keeps on polluting but the question is whether the countries that bear historic responsibility are willing to make a contribution. We could say the same of Brazil: yes, they have been destroying the rain forest but are we willing to help them financially so that they can survive without destroying them further? My second point: when we look at the development of the past 20 years, there is a phenomenon that has not been mentioned here today, even though we are attending an event organized by a civic organization. What I have in mind is civil society, civil mobilization. This is something really new – although not that new, when we look at what happened in India and how India got rid of British colonial rule, it was through civic protest, not by using arms – but since Second World War civil mobilization has become a really significant factor, a factor that has been pushing governments to behave more decently, a factor that is pushing the business world – today we haven’t really spoken much about the business world, except on an ethical level. And I think that after the political changes of 1989 civil society started growing but today we are witnessing a retreat of civil society, for various reasons. My last point concerns the media. I have been following the Slovak media from abroad and it’s a disaster. I don’t know if you are aware of the disastrous standard of our media. I don’t mean the sort of complaints the Slovak Prime Minister has been making but just compare the quality of the media, for example the Financial Times with Hospodárske noviny, The Guardian with Pravda or Le Monde and Figaro with SME. If nothing changes here we should not be surprised that people are mentally somewhere else.
Questions for specific speakers Brigita Schmögnerová: next year there will be about 80,000 unemployed in Slovakia. If unemployment goes up, the crime rate will go up. Can anything be done about it? Brigita Schmögnerová That will depend on a number of factors, primarily what happens with our key economic partner, i.e. the European Union. The next factor is the Slovaks working abroad – luckily, right now it doesn’t look as if they are planning to return to Slovakia en masse because that would immediately increase the rate of unemployment to the level it was before they left the country. We don’t have exact figures but we’re talking about several hundred thousand people. And the third factor, of course, is the policies that will be implemented in this country in future. Prince Schwarzenberg: what’s your view of Tomáš Baťa, a man vilified by some and praised by others? Karl von Schwarzenberg Tomáš Baťa is precisely the kind of man we are missing right now in the Czech and Slovak Republics, indeed in Central Europe in general. He was an entrepreneur who didn’t think just of himself but had a holistic view of his company, including schools that he built, public transport, and so on. If we don’t get used to seeing people in natural holistic environments, be they companies or villages, we will never overcome today’s sociological helplessness. Baťa was an outstanding example of this and I hope that someone like him will emerge in our new circumstances. We could certainly do with more of this kind of thinking.
Totalitarian Structures – a New Lease of Life Chair Thierry Chervel (Berlin) Panel Slavenka Drakulić (Vienna – Zagreb – Stockholm), Marci Shore (Yale University), Adam Michnik (Warsaw), György Konrád (Budapest), Maciej Zaremba (Stockholm), Timothy Snyder (Yale University) Thierry Chervel Good morning. Yesterday we looked at the heart of Europe; today we will take a look at the heart of darkness as we discuss how to deal with the past – although I do hope we will find some light at the end. Timothy Snyder will conclude this round with a few words about history and memory and we will also talk about the many hundreds of kilometres of secret police files and how to deal with them. My first question will be to Slavenka Drakulić who, in a recent article for Süddeutsche Zeitung about Radovan Karadžić, posed the following questions: How is it possible that a poet and a psychologist could have turned into a murderer? How is possible that intellectuals and poets like Karadžić do things like that? These questions may sound simple but are not so simple to answer. Has there been some sort of predisposition among intellectuals since the 19th century, a tendency to totalitarianism? Are intellectuals really secularized priests acting in the name of abstract ideals that can cause terrible collateral damage? Slavenka Drakulić This a very interesting question and I’ve been struggling with it for a long time. But it’s not a new question: we all remember the poets and writers, who collaborated with the Nazi regime in World War II, such as Knut Hamsun or Céline to mention just a few. In 1993 I was in America attending a big writers’ conference. It was at the time when Karadžić started to play a more prominent role in the war. I asked myself the same simple question: How can a poet do such a thing? And Hans Magnus Enzensberger replied something that I remembered later, when I was writing my book They Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly: “What makes you think that writers should be human beings of a higher moral order? Morality has nothing to do with being a poet, because nobody has a monopoly on morality.” We like to believe that beings because they are well versed in the arts and history: hence they should know, or should have known, better. However, this does not really stand up for artists or for people from other walks of life either. For example, let’s look at the case of Biljana Plavšić, a university professor, a highly educated and accomplished biologist who has published in foreign journals, and has studied in London and the US. She was thus already an established scientist when she decided to go into politics. However, ideology is very powerful, very tempting, and power is even more tempting. So you just go for it – it has more to do with opportunity than with morality. While writing the book They Wouldn’t Hurt a Fly I learned that we people like to proclaim these war criminals monsters. We have a tendency to have this figure of a monster in front of us but it’s just a defence mechanism because if we project them as monsters, it means that we, ordinary people, as Christopher Browning would say, are not capable of doing such a thing. We are excluding ourselves, it is our way of exempting ourselves from evil. And then you have people like Biljana Plavšić. I have included several profiles to show that it was ordinary people who committed this kind of crime. One of them is Karadžić, who happens to be a poet – a bad one, in my opinion, but that’s beside the point. And eventually you reach the conclusion that it’s human beings, human nature, that embraces the potential for all kinds of mischief and evil. All this is illustrated by Phillip Zimbardo’s famous Stanford prison study and also by a book I like very much, Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning. Tierry Chervel I think you’re completely right to say these are ordinary people. But isn’t there one thing that is specific to all East and Central European countries and that is that poets have played an important role in their nation-building? Does this have anything to do with it? Slavenka Drakulić Well yes, it does, in the sense that they were probably the only literate people in those nations. But what I wanted to say is that the role of the poet is linked to the tradition where all intellectuals, writers and poets under the communist regime were considered to be communist intellectuals, at the service of the state. You could not survive in any other way than by being at the disposal of the regime, being part of the propaganda machine. Writers, poets and academics played an enormous and negative role as part of the propaganda machine, in preparing the war. You have a choice, of course. But what Zimbardo also showed in his famous experiment is that everything depends on the circumstances. Throughout the war, everybody was saying: I would never be capable of committing such a crime. But the worst thing you learn when you study people like Karadžić and his ilk is that you don’t have the answer, because it all depends on circumstances. So by no means could I say what would happen to me and how I would behave in such circumstances. It’s nice that we all believe that we are above all that but in fact, it’s not just us who decides. Thierry Chervel Marci Shore, in your Eurozine essay you used the term Judeo-Bolshevism in connection with the lives of Polish people of Jewish descent who very much identified with communism after the war. You said something very interesting and sad: “The Jews who survived usually survived by themselves, without their families. After the war, they found themselves alone, in a void, surrounded by emptiness. The result was radicalism. This was such a large phenomenon it should not be taboo to speak about it.” Do you think it was taboo to speak about it? Can you say more about your experience with people you wrote about in your book – Caviar and Ashes? Marci Shore Let me first say that the fragment you quoted was actually a quote from Staszek Krajewski, so he should get credit for that. Himself the grandchild of Stalinists, he has long been one of those people in Poland who have been pushing for more open discussion on the history of Jews and communism. Helmut Kohl coined the phrase, “the grace of late birth”, referring to the German generation too young to have been implicated in Nazism. A friend of mine has modified this phrase for those of us who are foreigners writing about the places where we ourselves do not come from: he talks of “the grace of having been born elsewhere.” I belong to those who have the benefit of having been born elsewhere as I write not only about times that I did not live in, but also about places I’m not from. And this is especially true when writing 20th century history where one is looking implicitly at the history of people who, while often no longer alive themselves, have children and grandchildren who are still living. Being in Eastern Europe as the archives were being opened, writing about and trying to understand communism in the 1990s, – in addition to a voyeuristic thrill – also meant participating in this extraordinary Freudian drama without a happy ending. The opening of the archives was a bit like opening the dark psychic closet of the unconscious. If you remember the Freudian versus Marxist debates from a century ago, one of the reasons why Marx managed to win over so many followers was that if you bought into Marxism, you believed that eventually you would get to a point in history when everyone would live happily ever after. If, on the other hand, you were a Freudian you had to accept that basically we were all doomed to be unhappy. Freud offers us no happily-ever-after. So that’s why writing about these children and grandchildren of communists and writing about communists themselves has been guilt-inducing: it’s a bit like eavesdropping on a psychoanalytic session, which is precisely something that should never be done. I’d like to say a couple of words about the opening up of the archives and the process of writing in the 1990s, this messy psychoanalytic process of digging around in those dark psychic closets. As a historian who uses archives it would be hypocritical of me to argue that archival access should be restricted. But I will say that using archives is never a straightforward process but rather a quintessentially positivist one. It’s a return to a kind of 19th century model, in which, in a dry, scientific, cold and analytical way, you look through documents, acquire empirical evidence and try to accumulate facts. In addition to the positivist side, archival research also has what I would call the post-modernist side. And this has to do with the fact that you never get the whole story in the archives: you only ever get fragments, palimpsests. You try to glean the contours of what is missing from the contours of what is present. It’s a kind of a post-structuralist exercise in which meaning is revealed but in which meaning is also concealed, in which meaning flickers, in which stable meaning is “always already” deferred. And this combination of the positivism and post-modernism of archival research makes it often extremely difficult to make clear, definitive judgments about what exactly occurred when and where and who played what role, and so on. Moreover, I believe there is no such thing as a purely scientific archive in the sense that we have no documents that were produced outside of a certain time and a certain place and the conditions of human imperfection and human frailty. In this sense history is really part of the humanities — not the sciences – and all our conclusions are necessarily imperfect. I have always felt very strongly that it was important to understand why people made the choices they did. What did it mean to opt for Marxism in 1925 and what did it mean in 1933? What did it mean to join the communist party in Berlin in 1933? It was very different from joining it in Prague in 1951. I believe that the job of a historian is first and foremost to understand. There is a very important distinction to be made between understanding and justifying. I’ve written about people who, in some cases, had blood on their hands and I don’t want to justify them — or excuse them in any way. I only want to understand them. One of the things I feel strongly about in writing the history of “communism after communism” is that good history should do what good literature does: it should enable a reader to make a leap of imagination into a time and a place he or she most likely was not. In fiction, writers talk of a “suspension of disbelief.” You should be transported to this time and the place where you yourself were not. You should be able to hear and see and smell what it was like, you should try to be able to imagine yourself there to the extent it is possible. And what I’ve tried to illuminate through this “suspension of disbelief” — this attempt at transporting readers to another time and place – is precisely the complexity of any given moment in the past. Of all the past 15 years that I have spent running around Eastern Europe and working in the archives there are very, very few cases of people I have come across who were purely evil or purely good. People tend to fall somewhere in the middle. People tend to have shades of grey. People tend to have an extraordinary capacity to forgive and to betray, to be selfish and to be selfless, often in very unpredictable ways. One of the things that has often been missing in the discussion of what should happen with the archives is this idea of understanding. Can we use the archives not only to decide who was guilty and who was innocent, who should be lustrated and who shouldn’t be lustrated – can we use them to understand what happened and how and why? This requires a bit of empathy, of course, and here again I’m blessed with the “grace of having been born elsewhere.” I have, though, always tried to keep in mind a famous line from Wisława Szymborska’s poetry in which she says “tyle wiemy o sobie, na ile nas sprawdzono” – in my imperfect translation: “We know ourselves only in so far as we have been tested.”– And no further. Thierry Chervel Marci Shore writes about options: her research reveals that you can be involved in one form of totalitarianism and then in another. Adam Michnik, you decided in your youth, I think already as a student, to be in opposition to the Polish communist regime. Can you say a few words about this? Adam Michnik I view this problem from three perspectives. 1) as a historian, 2) as a political analyst and 3) as a citizen. As a historian, I consider it a phenomenon that accompanies all great transformations. There is nothing original about the behaviour of the current decommunisers, they are doing exactly the same thing as the Bolsheviks did. The first thing the Bolsheviks did after gaining power was to start looking for secret agents in their ranks. And they continued looking for a very long time: let me remind you that as late as in 1953 Beria was shot as a Japanese or maybe a US spy, I can’t remember exactly. To put it briefly, archives have always been useful for all those for whom normal procedures of a democratic state governed by the rule of law were not sufficient. The process that is currently taking place in Poland, which is referred to as lustration and decommunisation represents simply a certain way of doing politics, of waging a political war. If a certain political group wishes to eliminate its rivals, the lustration and decommunisation method comes in very handy. And the reason is that it can be applied selectively. The lustration law makes it very easy to accuse almost everyone because if you are asked to list all the contacts you’ve ever had with the secret services, as the [Polish lustration] law requires, you are obliged to lie because it’s impossible to remember all the contacts you have had with them. What really matters here is not the actual content of the law but the practice. We all agree that the communist propaganda and the communist rule was based on a lie and that statistics were falsified; yet we seem to believe there was this one institution where nobody ever lied, where everyone was precise and meticulous and truth-loving. And this institution was the security apparatus, this order of truth-loving Franciscans. None of them ever lied. To think they may have written lies about someone, just because he or she was a political enemy? Oh, that’s impossible. They have only ever written the truth and today we have to believe them as we believe the Gospel. So that’s my first observation. My second observation is as follows: we’ve known at least since the Middle Ages that when John talks about Paul it says more about John than about Paul. The archive materials are fascinating, mainly because they reveal the mentality, psychology, and intellectual level of the security service officers, not of the people on whom they informed or reported. And third, is it possible to imagine that someone would write the history of, say, the French Resistance, solely on the basis of Gestapo materials? That would be very difficult to imagine. But in my country the history of the anti-communist opposition is being written solely on the basis of information from the security service. So this whole context has to be borne in mind. Thierry Chervel I would like to propose that we leave this whole complex of questions such as lustration and the secret police files until after the break. Right now the question that interests me is when and how you personally understood that you could not go along with communism, how did it happen? And we will come back to lustration after the break. Adam Michnik I really don’t like talking about myself because you can’t be a good witness at your own trial. What do you want me to tell you? That I was born an anti-communist? I can’t really answer that question personally because I don’t trust my own memory. One always likes to think about oneself in a better light than one really deserves; it’s called cognitive dissonance. So I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not an interesting topic. Lustration is an interesting topic because it’s controversial. I am only controversial as an enemy of lustration, not as Adam Michnik. So please don’t be angry but I won’t be making any St. Augustine-like confessions. Thierry Chervel Well, even this response helps me understand something about you. Mr. Konrád, (in your recent article about anti-Semitism) you describe your experience as a child during the Second World War years, during the Holocaust, writing about the impossibility of speaking about this experience under the communist regime that followed. We see now that there are still anti-Semitic tendencies in Hungary. What do you think about these tendencies and do you see continuities between the two forms of totalitarianism? How does this problem manifest itself today? György Konrád It would be a slight exaggeration to say that communism was totalitarian throughout its entire existence. At times it was totalitarian, later it was, let’s say, authoritarian. And authoritarian structures were quite accepted and at home on the East European territory. As we move further away from the Atlantic Ocean we see more and more authoritarian phenomena. What was Germany like in the Wilhelmine period? It was quite a nice period. What was Germany like under Hitler and what was East Germany like compared to the other communist countries? We could say that this region had quite an interesting differentia specifica; that there were countries that were against the Germans because they had been occupied by the German army and that there were countries that had been satellites of the Hitler alliance. Hungary was one of them, as was Romania (but it was very skilful at the very end), and so was Bulgaria and Croatia. One cannot really completely remove oneself from the past. Also here, in this country, this republic was also created during the Second World War and Mr. Tiso was no great democrat either. The continuity of authoritarian structures and behaviours is very strong and will endure and maybe we could suppose or have the hope that it will be less strong but it would be reasonable to remark that the changes of government, the alternation of the left-wing, right-wing governance does not affect a fundamental change in long-term sociological trends. For example, let’s take bureaucratization: it has been gaining ground since the beginning of the period after the Second World War. Even after 1989 we still hoped there would be some kind of de-bureaucratization but it did not happen, since all the governments had their own growing retinues of followers. It’s probably because every government would like to have its loyal people and we can observe a very strange mixture of human attitudes, from non-conformism to various forms of dictatorship. There were people who were very nice, yet they were obedient to the fascists. It was very clear in Hungary, for instance, that after the end of the war, the little fascists turned into little communists, the little communists turned into big communists, and the big communists turned into big nationalists. So it is very easy and also quite amusing to study the vocabulary of the people of the new power: now they are very patriotic and very nationalistic while earlier they were big communists. They will always say whatever it is necessary to safeguard their career. And now I see a swing of the pendulum in the direction of nationalism and populism. Interestingly, this is possible even within the European Union, which is a kind of aggregate of national states. I had hoped for greater control of the national government, not from below – because it’s not so easy for the population to control those in power – but from the outside, through democratic institutions of the European Union but it seems to me that the people in Brussels are trying to avoid these hot potatoes. They have nice words but they don’t really touch the issues. And since sons are always sceptical of the fathers and more benevolent to the grandfathers, we can hope that, although the grandfathers’ legacy has now prevailed, maybe in the next century the pendulum will swing back again. Tierry Chervel Let me follow up this interesting point with a question: to what extent is the Holocaust and also the implication of the Hungarian institutions in the Holocaust an issue in Hungary, in the media and in schools? Is this an issue that is discussed? György Konrád Yes, it is being discussed and the article you referred to was a response to a question that was posed at a conference in Berlin, entitled Die entfesselte Erinnerung (The Liberated Memory). In my article I said there has been a liberation in two directions: Jews are now speaking and writing much more about their history, their problems, their identity or strategy, their culture; there is much more freedom to organize Jewish cultural festivals; there are publishing houses devoted to these phenomena; there are schools where Jewish children are educated and they are quite high-quality schools. Hungary is quite special because it has a Jewish community that is 100,000 strong or even bigger, while there are much fewer Jews left in the other East European countries. This is one tendency. The other tendency is that the kind of texts that were acceptable during the Nazi period are acceptable again, they have become salonfähig, they can be publicly presented and people find it normal. It has become quite commonplace to hear slogans such as Jews Go Home, implying, to Auschwitz. Thierry Chervel Maciej Zaremba, you had a very interesting experience in Sweden. Sometime in the nineties you wrote a story for Dagens Nyhete, about the forced sterilizations policy current in Sweden until the 1970s. A very good friend of mine, Arno Hut, wrote an article about this story and he made an interesting point, also touched upon by György Konrád, which is that a story is perceived in different way when it is perceived also by the international public, not just by your national public. György Konrád said he is disappointed by the European Union because nobody there is really interested in the new anti-Semitism in Hungary. And you had a similar experience with your story of forced sterilizations in Sweden: when you first wrote it nobody in Sweden was interested; only later, when American and other national media became interested it became a very big story. Maciej Zaremba Let me start by reflecting on what Marci [Shore] and Adam [Michnik] said about our attitudes to historical truth. Adam said that he had three perspectives on it: 1) as a historian, 2) as a political analyst and 3) as a citizen. I think that those three attitudes differ somewhat and if you try to introduce some justice into historical investigations you are always in a big trouble. In order to bring certain very painful incidents or processes out into the open you need indignation and in order to provoke indignation you cannot really be just. This is what Marci spoke about earlier, the need for interpretation. So if I look back at my own writing about the sterilizations, I really did not try to understand those people, it was a kind of accusation and the interpretation came later. And now I am in a very schizophrenic situation – as I’m correcting a translation of my book on this into Polish, I see that my attitude has changed and my moral condemnation is no longer so strong and I have to modify it because I am ten years older and also because there is a need for some kind of contextualization – it happened in the thirties and in the forties and so on. And the same goes for the view from outside. It’s true that many historians and journalists tried to bring this story out into the open and every time they did, they were met with silence and indifference from the public and from the historians, mainly because all the Swedish parties were involved, so there was no room for political manoeuvrings. The Conservatives could not hold the Social Democrats responsible because everybody was complicit: the laws were adopted by acclamation. So only after CNN and ABC and CBS came to Stockholm to ask the government how this could have happened did a minister offer to investigate, saying it was a barbaric procedure, and so on. But the interesting thing is that those laws were in force throughout Scandinavia but the international TV networks visited only Sweden, so Sweden is the only country where there was an investigation. And of course, the international reaction wasn’t just, there was a lot of Schadenfreude on the part of the Americans: just look at those Swedish paragons of humaneness. It is not just, but somehow it was needed. I’m very confused whenever I think about the justice of historical investigations because I know you cannot be really just, at least not at the beginning, maybe later. Thierry Chervel That is a very important point: debates about the past, especially the recent past, are always passionate, and perhaps it’s inevitable that they cannot always be just. Timothy Snyder, you wanted to say a few words about history versus memory. Timothy Snyder Slavenka [Drakulić], Adam [Michnik], György Konrád, have all written at least one book, which has profoundly affected how history is understood at least in their own countries; Marci Shore and Maciej Zaremba have written a book that has profoundly affected how people understand a country other than the one in which one was born, which is equally significant. I have not done that and have no aspiration to do that, so I am all the more flattered be on this panel with them. I wanted to mount a very simple defence of history. The presumption in this panel, which I’m sure has been confirmed in many of your young minds, is that there is too much history and that history can be rather a bad thing, it can cause all sorts of problems, temptations, misunderstandings. I would like to make the opposite case. That, although there are many sorts of discussions about the past in Eastern Europe, surprisingly, what we have seen over the past 20 years is the absence of history, or the marginalization of history. By history I don’t mean any relationship to the past or any discussion of the past. I mean the attempt to understand the past on the basis of historical documents, interpreted and presented in such a way as to be understood by anyone who wishes to understand. That may seem straightforward but it’s actually rather difficult to achieve. And I think it’s been particularly difficult to achieve in post-communist countries, for the following reason: communism has left a very strange legacy when it comes to history because communism, although it was always promising a brighter future, took a very hegemonic view of the past. Communists were very interested in history, not just international but also national history. And they left every post-communist country with a powerful legacy, a national myth, which is very difficult to overcome because myth, unlike history, is coherent, it is personal, it offers a certain logic, it has a certain appeal. It puts you in the first person, and gives you a point of view on the rest of the world.
But I think history is also difficult in this part of the world because of the resistance to communism. Yesterday, Karl von Schwarzenberg made the argument that there was a sense in which one believed that one system could simply replace another in economics. In the humanities I think there was a similar expectation: that once communism was over, history, in its good sense, would simply flow forth. People who resisted communism, and in this I would include people I respect tremendously, tended to believe this, in one of two ways. One would be this: the communists lied and therefore once we are allowed to tell the truth, everything will become clear. Another version of this would be: the communists suppressed certain events, there were blank spots, and as soon as we have the documents, we can fill in those blank spots, and then everything will become clear and we’ll have good history. Now, I submit to you, communism in this part of the world is (more or less) gone, twenty years have passed, and yet we do not have history in the good sense. Despite the efforts of very many gifted people, we do not have history, or not very much of it, surprisingly little. Why is that? I’d like to suggest that the legacy of communism has generated two – what I will call – deviations from history. The first one is the romantic deviation. The romantic deviation counters truth with truth. It accepts the communist premise that there is a big Truth with a capital T. And it tries to answer this big Truth with another big Truth with a capital T. Usually a national Truth. So it answers a legend with a legend. It organizes the facts around a new big Truth. This is the romantic deviation, which is associated with the view that the problem with communism was that the communists lied. They lied and by lying they told the wrong truth. We are going to tell the right Truth and everything will be fine.
There is also the positivist deviation, which has been referred to here already in a couple of different contexts. The positivist deviation says: all we have to do is accumulate documents, study them, publish them. If we can put a pile of books on this stage, all the way up to the ceiling, somehow quantity will turn into quality and we will have truth. The positivist deviation comes from the idea that what was wrong with communism was that we didn’t have the facts. And as soon as we have all the facts, as soon as we pile them up, then somehow we will be out of the woods, everything will be fine and we’ll have history. Let me give you some examples of how I think these two deviations have brought problems to the region. The romantic deviation can be seen most obviously in Yugoslavia, in the Yugoslav wars, where the case was made – especially by the Americans – that in the Balkans there was too much history. But the problem with Serbia was not that Serbs understood their history too well, the problem was generally that they exaggerated how many people died. Serbs did die in World War II, and they mythicized the history of Yugoslavia. The problem was not that there was a good understanding of history but rather that there wasn’t enough history.
Another good example of the romantic deviation of history is Russia today where President Medvedev is honest enough to try and prevent – and I’m quoting now a May 2009 decree – falsifications of history that are against the interests of the Russian state. So it’s not against the falsification of history, it’s against the falsifications that are against the Russian state. That’s actually the title of the decree. So at least Medvedev is honest enough to admit that what he would very much like to do is to build a legend of Russia that would be compelling. Another example of the romantic fallacy, which has to do with this region but which is not in this region, is the USA. One of the reasons – it’s a very minor reason so let’s not take it too seriously – but one of the very minor reasons why the United States went to war in Iraq was a certain legend about 1989. There was a view about 1989 that the Americans had liberated Eastern Europe. Now, of course, the Americans had a lot to do with the Cold War, and the American role in the Cold War is not something I would like to understate. However, in 1989 mostly what we were doing was hoping very much that Gorbachov would not fall from power. There was really no active support of Eastern Europe at all. However, in 1992, in the platform of the Republican Party convention there was already entrenched the notion that we had brought down the Berlin Wall, quite literally, which we had not. And that argument was then used to support intellectually the idea that we can liberate other countries, any country we want. That is a romantic falsification of history carried out by us, a misunderstanding that led to some, in my view, dreadful consequences.
What are some examples of positivist deviation? We’ll talk more about one of them later, but in the Czech Republic it is the Kundera controversy. Czech historians talking about documents concerning Kundera very rarely try to interpret them. Usually what they say is yes, these documents are authentic. But an authentic document is not the same thing as a carrier of truth. I was once at a conference with a Pole who, after having a couple of beers at lunch, made the positivist position more explicit than it usually is. He stood up and said: “I mam na to document.” [“I have a document to prove it”]. And that was instead of the argument, which, in his slightly drunken state, he wasn’t able to actually make. But an authentic document is just where you start. If you have a receipt from lunch in your pocket, that’s an authentic document. I can start with that to try and explain your life. And it helps me but it’s only a start. Another example would be in Poland, where in the discussion of the Kielce pogrom of 1948, about which Jan Gross wrote a book to which the Institute of National Remembrance responded – actually, they pre-empted it by publishing their own book first: a book of documents and articles which was so long that I’m sure no-one in the whole world, except for me, has read it. You can think of this as the positivist deterrent. But then they wrote a foreword only two pages long, in which the Head of the Institute of National Remembrance said: we don’t know to this day whether it was the Polish communists or the Soviet communists who were responsible for this pogrom. Now, if you’d read the book, you would know that it was neither the Soviet communists nor the Polish communists, but part of what is happening with this positivist deviation is that historians and institutions, by just publishing lots of documents, are making history impossible to understand. And in a strange way you see the positivist deviation linking up with the romantic deviation. Because if, instead of writing good history for you, I just drop documents from the ceiling onto you, you’re not going to change what you already think about history. You’re going to hang on to the same things you already think. Because documents by themselves don’t tell the story.
So, let me move towards the end with a question. Are you bored by history? Nudia vás dejiny? I actually mean it as a question for you [the students in the audience]. Professors, look away. I don’t believe you. There are two ways in which you can be oppressed by the state, in historical terms. One is that the state bores you to death, which is more frequent now. You were raised with a curriculum of national history, which is so tedious that by the time you reach university you no longer think history is interesting, which is a shame. And that’s the positivist deviation. The other way is that the state encourages you to believe that other people are to blame for what’s wrong with your history. That’s the romantic deviation. So the state either bores you to death or calls upon you to kill other people. Now, happily, we are rather in the bores-you-to-death period. But I would submit that if you were bored by history you were being oppressed by your state. Because in fact, history is interesting. And the history of Slovakia is fascinating. And the history of Slovakia in Europe is even more fascinating. Which is where I want to close. What would be interesting? European history would be very interesting. Right now, East European history exists in Europe essentially only as footnotes. And European history as an entity does not exist at all. What is slowly happening is that East European national histories are being accepted in a kind of multi-cultural politeness, according to a kind of multi-cultural etiquette as other reasonable national histories. So the Swedes have their history and you can have yours. What would be interesting is if East Europeans and East European historians were able to see the collective East European history broadly enough to help the West Europeans. Because the West Europeans have a problem: if there is no European history there can be no European identity. You can only go so far without history. History stays with you no matter what. And at the moment, one of the barriers that the advocates of European integration have is that they can’t look back at any common history. Basically, you are their only hope. I’m not going to say it’s a great hope because that would be the romantic fallacy. But East European history is the hope for European history. And that would be interesting. Thierry Chervel I think we’ve learned two things. We have learned that it’s not easy to look at one’s own past and that it is not only important to look back at one’s own legacy and find a relationship to those hundreds of kilometres of files which have to be interpreted or not, but it’s also very important that others have a look at you. And a third important point is that we have to see the relationship between the different histories and also tell a European history, and this can also be painful. We can now return to the issue of lustration, to the Kundera case and perhaps we’ll find a perspective to construct something like a European history. So, speaking of European history, one can say that the history of totalitarianism is European history. And one of the most important questions, one that has already been raised in the first session, is how to deal with the legacy, with the archives, the secret service files. Adam Michnik, we have already heard that you feel very strongly about lustration. I would like to ask you a specific question: was it right to publish the police document about Milan Kundera, and how should one deal with it, how to tell the historical truth? Isn’t it very important in this case, for example, that there was another person in this story, a woman who lived her life under the suspicion of being a traitor and at least the publication of this document freed her from this suspicion? Adam Michnik I won’t speak about Kundera. I haven’t seen the documents relating to this case and there is someone in this room who is a specialist on this case, his name is Martin Šimečka. That is a completely different conversation. But I have seen other documents like this that have been published in my country, and I will mention three cases. The first concerns the accusations against Lech Walęsa. Lech Walęsa probably does not need an introduction here but just in case he does, let me say that he is the leader of Solidarity, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, our former, democratically elected, President. And let me also add that I was his political opponent, I was very critical of him. Well, the Institute of National Remembrance announced the publication of two books. One of these books claimed that in 1971, as a worker in the Gdańsk shipyard, Lech Walęsa signed a pledge to cooperate with the secret police. There had been talk about this before, I remember even before 1980, but to publish this sort of material at this point, suggesting that Walęsa had all this time been a secret service agent, is in my view 1) a historical falsification; 2) a demonstration of the inability to read historical sources – something that Timothy Snyder has already mentioned here – and 3) political manipulation. The second example is our great poet Zbigniew Herbert. Documents have been found showing that Herbert had had several meetings with officers of the secret service who tried to recruit him, asking him about his contacts with the Polish emigration, with Czesław Miłosz and others. This was published under the motto that Herbert had been an operational contact, a secret service informer. And the third example is Jacek Kuroń. For me he is the most distinguished member of the opposition movement, a man who spent nine years in prison. Well, the historians from the Institute of National Remembrance found a report in which a secret service officer wrote that Jacek Kuroń refused to testify but that he explained to the officer how he saw the political situation. The report is a record of a conversation with Jacek Kuroń, and it was published in a daily newspaper under the heading “Kuroń negotiated with the secret service”.
Why do I bring up these cases? Because the mere fact that Walęsa signed something in 1971 does not prove anything else apart from the fact that he signed it; he did not consider it significant. Yet publicizing it today, out of context, is simply political manipulation aimed at destroying Walęsa, not a sign of concern for the historical truth. This fact might have its place in a biography of Walęsa but to publicize it in the context of revealing secrets of the secret police files is falsification of history. As for Kuroń, Jacek was a kind person, so he always talked to these secret police people. I am not a kind person, I’m rude, so I refused to talk to them and as a result they now have nothing to reveal because I never said anything, or if I said anything it was only generalities. Nevertheless, if secret police archives can be used to question the CVs of these three people – Walęsa, Herbert and Kuroń – I have the right to claim that this entire operation has nothing to do with historical research. Archives are necessary, that’s for sure, but archives must not be used as a baseball bat for killing people. You can find documents in Soviet archives showing that Tukhachevsky was a Gestapo agent. These documents do exist, there is even his testimony. But does that prove he was a Gestapo agent? No, it does not. The information always has to be crosschecked with other sources, with other facts. One cannot remove them from the context of their era.
I’d rather not talk about Kundera. But let’s look at Günter Grass. He himself wrote that, as a young man, for a few months he was a member of the Waffen SS. A huge brouhaha immediately broke out, spilling over into Poland and even involving Walęsa who lost it for a while, demanding publicly that Grass should give up his honorary citizenship of Gdańsk. I wrote a very strong response in defence of Günter Grass. The context is incredibly important. People said he should have admitted it publicly earlier, but when was he supposed to have admitted it? In 1945? At the time of the Nuremberg Trials? Was he supposed to have publicly announced at that time that he, too, had been a member of the Waffen SS for a few weeks? That’s nonsense. The point here was to undermine Günter Grass and his authority as an anti-Fascist. So that is why I warn against using secret police archives in a political war. Because it destroys public life. People in Poland used to say that if we opened the archives it would cleanse the moral atmosphere. My country has never known such a foul and despicable moral atmosphere as the one we had when attempts were made to use the secret police archives for the political assassination of Walęsa, Herbert, Kuroń or Kapuściński or whoever else you like. Nobody has come out of it unsoiled. When Antoni Macierzewicz started bringing up these archives, a friend of mine said: “It’s like throwing a grenade into a cesspool. Some will get killed, others will get injured, but everyone will be soiled.” Thierry Chervel But couldn’t there be also another way to deal with these files? Would you opt for not publishing these files at all? Couldn’t there be a more differentiated, reasonable way of dealing with these files? Or do you think there is no point in doing it? Adam Michnik I was against opening the archives because I believe that if in Great Britain it is accepted that archives should be kept closed for a certain number of years, there is no reason why it should be different in Poland. However, the archives have already been opened in Poland. And now I think that all that stuff should be uploaded onto the Internet and the whole Institute of National Remembrance scattered to the winds. Because they live off taxpayers’ money and they live in an exceptionally perfidious way. Because they have a monopoly on the archives, that is, they have complete control over them and depending on who needs to be attacked they will find some material on them and have it leaked to the papers or the TV. So when I say: upload everything onto the Internet they say: no, no, no, that’s impossible. But why do they say that? Because they would lose their raison d’etre. The Polish Institute of National Remembrance is a cross between the KGB and an Institute for the Research of the Communist Party History under communism. And at the same time, in Poland the Institute also has the power to prosecute. This cross between a historian and prosecutor is our specific Polish Molotov cocktail. I believe the way to deal with these archives is the way they are dealt with in any civilized democratic country. But since they have already been opened, they should be opened to everyone and not just to a group of selected political gangsters and hooligans who use the archives as a baseball bat for killing people. Thierry Chervel I would like to put the question to the professional journalists and historians. It’s clear that when the persons concerned are still alive it’s very difficult but there are also those who were victims of the secret service activities: don’t the victims have the right to see their secret police files and does the public not have the right to hear the truth about such details of history? Maciej Zaremba I think this is a tragic situation. The definition of tragedy is that there is a conflict of values. It is a problem without a solution: it’s true that the victims have the right to know who persecuted them or who informed on them, but they also have the right not to know. We know from recent history that some people would prefer not to know that their wife or lover or mistress had informed on them. So if all the tabloids went away, if they just disappeared overnight and if 90% of all TV stations also disappeared and we only had the honest, wonderful mass media, and if history institutes such as the Institute of National Remembrance were governed by angels then it would be perfect. I really don’t know because every time I think about it I see that there are conflicting values. I would like to ask Adam [Michnik] another question. After the lessons of those 20 years of lustration and non-lustration and so on, if the Cuban dissidents asked you today: Listen, in a few years we will have some kind of democracy here. How would you advise us to deal with the past – with the files, with the persecutors, with all those things? How to manage the conflict between justice and reconciliation, the things that you had an influence on during that time? Are there any mistakes we could learn from, any advice that you could give the Cubans? Adam Michnik A few years ago I attended a conference in Miami organized by Cuban émigrés and they asked me the same question. My answer was: there are no good solutions. In this sense I agree with Maciej, this is a situation that has a tragic dimension, there are no good solutions, only bad ones and very bad ones or even worse ones. So in my view the best solution is the Spanish one, the Spanish way from Francoism to democracy. There was no lustration or de-Francoisation because the Spaniards understood that after a terrible war such as theirs they had to learn to live with each other. What will happen in Cuba will depend on whether all kinds of Cubans will learn to live with each other. What happened in Poland is that the people who took power declared: We are the people and we have the right to pass judgment on who is good and who is not good. Like the Orwellian all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others. I don’t want to be a more equal animal. I didn’t do time in prison under the dictatorship so that I could now put others into prison. Let’s put an end to the era when some Poles were required to put other Poles in prison. We must put an end to it. Is it just? It is just for some and not for others. It’s the up to God to decide what is just. And it is our job to solve problems we are able to solve in the least painful way. Now of course, the Spanish way does not solve everything. And today the issue is coming back in Spain in Prime Minister Zapatero’s propaganda. As Felipe Gonzales caustically remarked, Zapatero is now trying to win the civil war with the Francoists. So this problem is returning, the whole issue of opening of graves has brought back, the issue of revenge. I used to say: amnesty yes, amnesia no. We have to remember but we cannot build a democratic country on revenge as its foundation stone. When I see what’s happening today, when I see how Jaruzelski has been dragged through courts for twelve years now (the verdict is still pending and he will probably go to his grave as an accused man – he’s over eighty now) I find there is something disgusting about this. I was Jaruzelski’s prisoner but at the same time I know that if it had not been for Jaruzelski, there would have been no velvet transition in Poland. We would have had a Romania or a Tiananmen Square instead. That is the reality. As Maciej [Zaremba] said, history is not made by angels. In Poland it’s got all mixed up. The same has happened in Slovakia. Of course, Husák was a terrible man. But Husák was one of the few during the Stalinist times who would not be broken in prison. We have to remember that. He was bad but he was also good. And we have to learn to see our history as a process that has many aspects. Take Gomułka, for instance. I have no reason to love him, he too put me in prison, but nevertheless Gomułka was a Polish politician; he was pro-Soviet but he was not a Soviet agent. We have to differentiate. To put it briefly, the memory will keep coming back because the whole communist system, as Kundera has said, is a system of forgetting, a system of disavowing memory. Memory will return. And in our countries this return has a dual character. On the one hand, it is a return of the truth about Stalinism and communism. But on the other hand, it is a return of the truth about Nazism in our countries. And this is an interesting paradox. Because those who proclaim that the truth will set us free, quoting the scriptures after [Pope] John Paul II, mean only the truth about the agents of the secret police but not the one about the anti-Semitic pogroms after the war. That they don’t want. The version of history peddled by these patriots does not include the fact that in 1922 the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Poland was assassinated by a zealot, a follower of nationalist ideology. They don’t write about the fact that, before the war, my country did something really bad in relation to Czechoslovakia in 1938 when the Polish army occupied the Trans-Olza region. And why is that? They do it so that we can spin our own myth of our nation as an innocent victim. But such nations simply do not exist although all our nations stubbornly cultivate this myth. It seems to me that the way Timothy has put it is very romantic. To me it’s simply hypocrisy. Thierry Chervel Marci, to speak about the files, is it not the way to understand the truth? Marci Shore I will echo Maciej [Zaremba]’s point that this is a very difficult situation, in the sense that there is no good, morally pure answer. It is an Isaiah Berlin situation in which some good things exclude other good things. As a historian I always have some self-interest in having the archives open. But let me just make two points. One is that the desire for moral clarity, the desire to determine who was guilty and who was innocent is very understandable. Yet the possibility of doing that while avoiding either Manicheanism, which is very rarely a reflection of the truth on the one hand, or avoiding moral relativism which abstains from making moral judgment on the other hand, is very, very difficult. I think there are two main reasons for it in this case. One, as a historian who has worked in a few dozen archives in perhaps ten different countries I have to say that the secret police archives (I have worked in the secret police archives in Poland and the secret KGB archives from the Stalinist era) are by far the most difficult. They are not transparent sources – and here I’m going to echo what Tim [Snyder] said: the fact that a document is authentic does not mean it is unproblematic. Because there are no purely objective documents. Documents are produced by individuals who are living at a certain time, in a certain moment, with certain interests, with certain intellectual capabilities and with certain kinds of understandings. One of the things I noticed when working in the Polish archives is that, as you move from the forties and fifties to the seventies and eighties, the intellectual level of the agents gets much lower. So you’re reading these reports in a terribly ungrammatical Polish, they are supposed to be transcripts of conversations that had been bugged but it’s obvious from the quality of the transcription that the person listening to the conversation did not really completely understand what was being talked about, sometimes simply because it was above his intellectual level. Sometimes you can suspect there is self-interest involved, sometimes there are other motives, sometimes there’s stupidity, there’s messiness; people get confused in the bureaucracy, there’s some sort of dialogical interaction between the interrogator and the person who is interrogated. It’s not to say that nothing in them is true. But they cannot be seen as a kind of non-problematic gold standard. They are incredibly difficult documents to work with. Tthat’s why history is part of the humanities more than of science; it’s not transparent. There is another point I want to make which I don’t think has been raised here yet. And I want to preface it by saying that in all the time that I have spent working in post-communist archives I have never ever assumed that, had I lived then, in these places, that I would have been a hero. On the contrary, I have always assumed I would be a coward. But one of the things that’s problematic is that the people who have files are often the people who have engaged against the regime. It was much safer then and it is much safer today not to have a file. And the people who don’t have files, in essence, are Havel’s greengrocers. They are the people who went to the shops every morning and put up the sign: Workers of the World Unite in the window, alongside the tomatoes and the onions. As Havel says in the Power of the Powerless, echoing what Hannah Arendt said after the war: we are really in a very problematic situation because when everybody is implicated how can anybody be judged? In the Power of the Powerless, writing in a really beautiful and aesthetic way, Havel is really very harsh, and he indicts basically everyone. He says it’s the greengrocers who make it possible for the game to go on in the first place, because the line between victim and oppressor runs de facto within each person. Everyone, in his or her own way, is both a supporter and a victim of the regime. And that’s another way in which it’s morally very problematic. Once you have a file, something in that file can be used against you. It doesn’t mean that it does not make a difference what is actually contained in the file. But it’s also true that, to a large extent, the system was sustained by people who didn’t have files. And that involves a different kind of accounting and I’m not sure how that can be done. Thierry Chervel Slavenka, you followed the trials in Yugoslavia, some years after the war, which raised the question of how to judge, how to be right? What is your view? Slavenka Drakulić A lot of interesting things were said but I would like to go back to what Adam [Michnik] said about the Spanish model: in the countries of former Yugoslavia we didn’t even come to the point of discussing the files from the communist times. We are still going back to the Second World War, and that is our big problem. We have no possibility, no energy, no knowledge or motivation to deal with the Second World War. I don’t agree with the Spanish model because that’s what he had in Yugoslavia. Of course, it was not democratically decided that we were to know almost nothing about the Second World War. And coming back to what Timothy [Snyder] said about history and memory – in my opinion there wasn’t too much history in the Balkans. On the contrary, there was too little history and too much memory. I mean history in the sense of scholarship. I mean that my generation did not grow up with knowledge but with facts filtered through communist ideology. So for example, we learned that Pavelić was a villain and there was never any discussion about his role – not that I think today that he’s a better man – but the thing is that this kind of silence, this kind of burial of truth in the communist countries, which is understandable, it’s not at all democratic. I have seen it – and this is the problem – I have seen it repeated now, in this post-war situation, after the three wars that ended fifteen years ago with the Dayton Agreement in 1995. And because we were not capable of resolving this problem earlier, we were almost directly transported into nationalism and then nationalism caused the war, and that is why we are in the situation now when we have to have justice and reconciliation after the wars. And apparently it’s not possible to do this without resolving the situation from the war. It all hangs together because all these guys, like the ones in my book, in their own environment, in their own country – Kosovo, Bosnia, Serbia or Croatia respectively – they are all hailed as heroes. In Croatia people are wearing a T-shirt saying Gotovina: Hero not Criminal. He is seen as a Croatian hero rather than a criminal who has been indicted in The Hague and is still awaiting trial. And this is much more present and much more important. And in this situation, if I were in a position to choose – though I don’t know if there is a choice – between the German model of facing the past and the Spanish model of sweeping it under the carpet, or wisely deciding on not insisting on certain things, I would opt for finding out the truth about our own past because of my experience. I am now experiencing it for the second time, the same kind of ideological manipulation with the past meaning, where history, as documents and also as personal memories, is being used as political power. Croatia is a special case because in the Second World War, just like Slovakia, it was a fascist state. So we are a divided people, and we have four and a half million citizens who are still divided between fascism and anti-fascism.
And only then do we come to the communist archives, which are – if you can imagine such a thing – half open. It means that you have a right to go there, claim your dossier and look at this dossier, but it is censored, and you are not allowed to photocopy anything, you are not allowed to take notes, there’s a policeman sitting across from you, watching what you are doing. So neither myself, nor many of my friends have been tempted to go there and look into that. There are many reasons for this but basically it’s because 1) we don’t trust the communist archives and 2) we now have a more acute problem. As a fiction writer I would just like to tell you how the archives and files can turn into fiction. My husband – who is a Swedish journalist and writer and who was for a long time correspondent for Svenska Dagbladet throughout Eastern Europe, including East Germany – went to see his Stasi file after they were opened, and he found one very curious document or rather a statement. He found that he had a Russian lover and with that Russian lover he had a daughter. He thought this as very interesting because he does not have children of his own although he really would have loved to have a daughter. But alas, it was all just an invention, a piece of fiction. Thierry Chervel Timothy Snyder, isn’t it difficult to write history when the protagonists are still alive and when there are not only questions of historical truth but also questions of responsibility and moral issues that can always have different interpretations? Timothy Snyder Let me just make a few points that reflect on things that have already been said. Like Marci Shore I have done a fair amount of work in secret police archives. And that experience has taught me both that these are extremely valuable sources, on the basis of which you can write good history, but also that one must be extremely careful with individual files, with individual names. I wrote a book, called Sketches from a Secret War, which is entirely about Polish espionage in the Soviet Union before the Second World War but also about the persecution of a Polish spy by the Polish secret communist services after the Second World War. He was a particularly interesting case because the Polish secret services had been looking for him for seven years before they found him, so there’s a very large file. And in the course of these seven years you can see that the secret police named certain people as being their agents. And if you just pulled out one document and published it you could be sure that this person was a secret police agent. But then you would read a document from the following week by another agent, and it would say that, although this person was mentioned as an agent in a report of such and such a date, we never really managed to recruit him. I think this is extraordinarily important and really ought not to be forgotten. A document taken out of a folder is almost by definition mendacious. It’s almost like me saying: I know you because I’m looking at you in this audience right now. I know something about you but it’s very little and it wouldn’t make much sense for me to draw any conclusions. The second thing I want to say is that there are, or there should be, no privileged documents, no privileged sources. All sources should be accessible and all sources should be subject to critique. This is an argument that applies not just to the secret police sources. It also applies in different contexts. So, for example, there are people, respected historians, who argue that Holocaust testimonials, that is the memoirs of people who have survived the Holocaust, are a special kind of source, that they ought not to be criticized in the same way as other historical sources are. I think that is incredibly counterproductive because it undermines the history of the Second World War and of the Holocaust. As soon as you say that a particular source is special and is not subject to critique, then whatever conclusion you draw from it is open to criticism that you’re making a special case on behalf of a special kind of people. The same thing applies to the secret police sources. There is nothing special about them. You’ve got to understand, as Marci Shore has said, who generated them and why, and in what context. So the one conclusion I would draw from all this is that the sources ought to be open. The secret police archives ought be archives that everyone can use. And this is the basic banal problem: it’s generally difficult to get access, there aren’t enough seats, and it’s hard to get the things that you want to get, even if you are a professional historian with an unsullied reputation, which is Adam Michnik’s point about the monopoly. I don’t think everything should be put on the Internet, just because I think everyone spends too much time on the Internet but in general I think that it makes more sense for people to work through things more slowly, and let people at least take the initiative to go to an archive. Another important thing is that we should stop using the word memory in a serious context. I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast. And I think it’s very important that states stop creating institutions called institutes of national memory. If you want to create and institute of national history, fine, hire good historians (more on that in a second), and use that to generate good history. But don’t try to generate memory. That’s not the state’s business. The state ought not to be doing that. If the state is generating your memory you are being oppressed.
As for who the historians should be – this is a serious problem in Poland and elsewhere. It’s a problem in the Czech Republic, for sure. Everybody should have access to these documents. It shouldn’t be particular groups of historians. And it certainly shouldn’t be people who are bad historians. These people who are bad historians are the ones who are particularly subject to the romantic and positivist deviations. Because they just don’t know any better at this point. What can we do about this? Well, if these are serious institutions, why not rotate personnel? Why not take people from the Hungarian institute and have them serve an internship in the Polish one? Have the Polish ones serve an internship in the Czech one, and the Czech historians in the Ukrainian one? I’m totally serious about this. Why should this be impossible? If this is really about finding the truth, why not rotate the personnel? Among other things, this would have the benefit that the people would learn languages. It’s perfectly absurd that in the Institute of National Remembrance in Poland you have historians, whose basic function is to blame other people for the wrongs of Polish history, and who don’t even know the languages of these other people. So, everyone who works in the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, for example, should know, in my opinion, either Russian or Ukrainian or Yiddish or German. And they shouldn’t be hired until they can demonstrate that they know at least one of those languages. Because if you’re going to write a vision of history in which the outsider is to blame, you should at least understand the outsider. I think if you did a few banal things like this we could dodge some of these moral questions and the kind of history that would emerge would be much better. György Konrád My position on this issue is close to what Adam Michnik, Mr. Snyder and Slavenka Drakulić have said. I find the question more boring than it seems to be. I got a big heap of papers written about me and I would say that 90% of it was incredibly boring, uninteresting and irrelevant. For instance, it said Konrád was in such-and-such a place, then he expressed anti-socialist ideas, and so on. But once I got a chance to read a long report by a lady who was a literary historian and it was an extremely interesting record of a discussion I had with her in 1957, just after the revolution, on the revolution itself. I did not remember these views, but my friend was very brilliant and I was grateful to this lady who recorded it all with such devotion. Once I was in East Berlin visiting my friend György Dalos and it was quite evident we were bugged. And I could not help feeling a kind of respect for the Stasi people because they did quite a decent job. Many years ago my friends and I lived this kind of life; it was as if we were dead. And then I said: don’t be angry, because it’s possible that the historian is the master of history, the master of the regime, and all the Stasi and similar institutions are just his scientific aids to make sure that everything we are saying here, every stupid statement, will be preserved for posterity. And what is more serious, I know that it was very rare that those who were informers did it just for joy or for money. They were pressured. Sometimes they were good people, weak people, they just wanted to belong to a kind of interesting opposition society and then they were pressured by the police because they were seen in the company of those dangerous people and then they made some concessions. There were cases like that especially among young people. And later on they suffered a lot because of that. And there were other people who did this job out of a sense of duty, as an ordinary bureaucratic task. For instance, every managing director had the duty to inform the person who came regularly from the Ministry of Interior to ask him about all his co-workers. Now these directors could be very important persons, even after the change, but those small people were tortured. And I have a fundamental scepticism about the kind of people who feel very good when they unmask someone, when they accuse other people of having done something morally wrong. These moral accusers are, in my eyes, extremely questionable people. So I would quote Leo Tolstoy’s maxim: Be hard on yourself and understanding to others. Questions from the audience Has totalitarianism survived not only in the archives but also in the minds of people? You have suggested that everything is relative, that we should forgive and not bring up certain individual cases. I agree we should not call for revenge and misuse the files, as Adam Michnik said but will this not send the signal to future gangsters that they will get away with doing bad things, provided they do it as part of a large enough group? Marci Shore You can change the institutions but to change the way people think is obviously a lot harder. In the discussion about the Kundera case I found one thing very interesting that may pertain to this issue of what has survived and what has changed. It seems to me that it is almost incidental whether Kundera, as a very committed young Stalinist, was actually the person who, having discovered there was a foreign agent hiding in the student dormitory, reported it to the police which, as a committed communist, he would have been under a moral imperative to do. It seems that the real question that I think could move society forward should be: why was it that so many young people of Kundera’s generation, bright young people, people with altruistic motives, people who were willing to sacrifice themselves on behalf of humanity, were so drawn to Stalinism? Kundera himself spoke about this, although not for quite a long time. Yet he gave a remarkable interview to Antonín J. Liehm in the mid-1960s in which he spoke about his generation and how his own miracle age coincided with the worst excesses of the Stalinist period and how no-one in his generation really had the right to like himself. In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting he wrote that what happened in 1968 was one generation revolting against its own youth. And in a way I think this is the discussion that could break through a certain way of thinking that hasn’t happened yet and that I would like to see. Timothy Snyder You will never catch future gangsters with documents because the age of documents is over. One of the interesting things about communism is that it was the last system that documented itself. And the other interesting thing is: the communists did not think that their system was going to be overturned. So whereas the Nazis were burning their files all the way to the end, the communists did get rid of something in 1989 but the Stalinist files are largely complete and it’s just a matter of access. And this is relevant in many other ways. As Mary Kaldor said, the end of communism was the end of a certain historical period. The Slovak government now does not document itself in the way the Slovak Socialist Republic did. Future historians will have a huge problem because everything that happens in real life now happens in text messages and e-mails and if you cannot get to the disk drives you cannot get the e-mails. And if you can’t get to the files in the central server you can’t get the text messages. So we historians, who are working on the communist period, are in a luxurious position because there is paper. Future gangsters will leave no paper trail so you’re not going to catch them anyway. So that’s the practical part of your question. As for the moral part of your question, there is nothing that anyone – at least I – have said that would militate against moral judgement. I think that moral judgment is different from historical understanding and I would prefer that people have historical understanding first. And what I was trying to say should all be understood in the context of how you seek to reach historical understanding. I think that if you don’t have historical understanding, moral judgement is not only harder but also dangerous. Adam Michnik Very briefly on the issue of forgiving. In my life I’ve had to deal with lots of gangsters; I did time with many of them in prison, and none of them was driven by the kind of moral reasoning. It seems to me that the truth is somewhere else. Of course, you can only ever forgive in your own name. I cannot forgive in your name. What I am afraid of is a kind of political reasoning: if there is to be justice in Poland, Jaruzelski has to be sentenced. Justice is based on a verdict passed by an independent court. But the minute I make a judgment in advance saying Jaruzelski has to be convicted, I am passing a verdict. Once politics enters the courtroom, justice leaves by another door. It’s one or the other. So those who are demanding justice are actually demanding injustice because they are arrogating to themselves rights that don’t belong to them. The administration of justice has to be separate from government. If these two merge, as in the case of our Institute of National Remembrance, it ceases to have anything to do with either justice or the rule of law, or with the search for historical truth. After all, these “thinkers of ours” have sunk to such level of paranoia that they are not allowing any discussion of the Polish People’s Republic; they are not allowing a discussion of who was a criminal because then you fall into the trap of relativism, and the boundaries between good and evil get blurred. So you can’t be a judge and not even a historian. So, to sum up: in Slovakia there are various aspects of history. But if you tried to write a biography of Alexander Dubček using the methods of the Polish Institute of National Remembrance it would turn out that Dubček should have been locked up forever. With this warning I will conclude. Thierry Chervel We could go on and on, it is obvious that kind of debate itself is important if we are to come closer to the truth. I would like to thank the panel and hope we have given the audience much food for thought.
Panel 4 Democracy Fatigue Chair Jacques Rupnik (Paris) Panel Václav Havel (Prague), Krzysztof Czyżewski (Sejny), Ágnes Heller (Budapest – New York), Ivan Krastev (Sofia). Miroslav Kusý (Bratislava), Robert Menasse (Vienna), Ingo Schulze (Berlin) Jacques Rupnik Twenty years ago, when the old regime collapsed, there were great expectations everywhere, not just in Central Europe. Democracy was regarded as something natural, a negation of the previous, totalitarian regime. But we had only the vaguest idea of what it might look like or what conditions were necessary for it to take root in this part of the world. At the same time, Western Europe had great hopes that the experience of reinventing democracy in Central Europe, redefining the most basic concepts of democracy – constitution, citizenship, civil society – anew, might enrich also countries with well-established democratic institutions. Never the less, 20 years later, a certain unease has crept into the celebrations. While everyone is paying tribute to those who participated in these movements, everyone can see what state our democracy in Central Europe is in now. However, I believe that here in Central Europe, in terms of what Isaiah Berlin called “negative freedoms” – the freedom of individuals to move, express themselves, to do business freely without any interference or restrictions from the state or anyone else – we are free more than ever before: maybe except for the interwar Czechoslovakia, nobody in this region has experienced anything like this in the past. This dimension of individual freedom is, in my view, the great achievement of 1989. At the same time, in terms of “positive freedoms”, by which I mean the ability to influence public affairs and to influence policies and the governments that rule us here, the achievements have been more limited. What the opinion polls tell us is that people don’t feel they can influence their governments any more than they were able before 1989. This may be exaggerated but it is indicative of something. So, while nobody can abridge your personal freedom your own ability to influence public affairs is very limited. And this state of affairs is not healthy, it is not good for democracy, and perhaps we ought to give it some thought because this is not a problem of just the Czech Republic or Slovakia but rather something experienced by the majority of post-communist countries. And although this democracy fatigue, the exhaustion of the post-transition elites might be much more pronounced in this part of the world but nowadays it is a pan-European problem whose symptoms can be observed everywhere. We have a distinguished panel here to discuss what were our expectations and what is present-day reality. Mr President, looking at the state of democracy now, after 20 years, how does it compare with your expectations? Václav Havel This is something I have spoken about many times and I apologize if you have heard before. This is always very embarrassing for me because I regard myself as a creative person and suffer very much whenever I have to repeat the same things over and over. I think it’s very good that this anniversary has challenged us to give more thought to questions such as where we are now, what is ahead of us, what we wish for and where we have failed to meet our own expectations; and, generally, how we evaluate the era of the past 20 years of freedom. First of all, like many of my fellow citizens, I am slightly nervous about the current situation in my country, the Czech Republic. We have not abandoned our original ideals, we are following the right path, but we are proceeding in a rather laborious and long-winded manner, with lots of peculiar twists and turns and mishaps, with lots of ups and downs. This manifests itself, among other things, in a strange alienation between society and politics; it seems that a kind of abyss has opened up between them. It can also be observed in our language, in the way people express themselves. When we hear in the news or read in the papers that this or that event has a political background, a political context, that it is based on political motives, basically it means that is it has a suspicious background, a suspicious context or suspicious motives. This means that politics as such, as a discipline, has implicitly become something suspicious. I believe this is not good at all. It means that the best people refuse to get involved in politics because they see it as some sort of a suspicious activity, a suspect way of making one’s living, and it seems to me that this is typical of my country at this time. There are several reasons for this. In part, it is a typical post-communist phenomenon but it’s also a typically Czech phenomenon; partly it is the general democracy fatigue that Jacques [Rupnik] has referred to, but what I’d say is specifically Czech about it is a peculiar partocracy, a lack of clarity and a misunderstanding of the role of political parties. It’s not something that has emerged in the past 20 years; it’s an old Czech malaise, dating back to Austro-Hungarian times. It’s as if the parties did not understand that they are only instruments of politics, irreplaceable and important ones certainly, but only the means rather than the ends of politics. As if they did not know that their role is not to be covert manipulators of politics but rather to serve as highly visible producers of ideas and personalities, as platforms for political discourse that generate ideas, that allow ideas and politicians to be shaped, which the parties can then can offer to the country, to the voters, to the citizens. This is a specifically Czech issue. As for issues of a general, post-communist nature, these are, of course, linked to the role of civil society, which is not yet sufficiently developed. Politics ought to be the essence of civil society, draw its nutrients from civil society, as this is what nourishes politics. But when civil society is not developed, when it is ailing, when political parties are not interested in it then, of necessity, political parties start ailing too which, in turn, has its own diverse consequences. These remarks probably sound rather incoherent and I hope there will be an opportunity to clarify some of this later. I would conclude with a brief example that illustrates what I think is wrong with the way political parties are behaving. All of us, apart from the very youngest, will remember the time when Czechoslovakia was being divided. All of us were on edge, glued to the TV sets until around two in the morning the announcement came that our country was about to be split into two states. I don’t want to pass judgement on the division of the country itself now. But what I objected to was that it was the political parties who made the announcement, not governments, not parliaments. In the middle of the night we watched party chairmen and deputy chairmen announce this decision – they were going to let the governments sort out the logistics later on, but the nation learned it from the lips of party representatives. Even in those cases where the party chairmen also held the position of prime ministers, they did not make the announcement in their capacity as prime ministers but as party chairmen, and they presented it as a result of negotiations between two parties, a Czech one and a Slovak one. It might seem a complete formality but to me it is a perfect illustration of the wrong understanding of the role of political parties, which I have constantly been trying to criticize, albeit without great success. Jacques Rupnik Many thanks. Mr. President mentioned that this is an old problem, one that we have inherited from Austro-Hungary which shows that the word “partajmizérie” [“party misery”], first used in the Manifesto of Czech Modernism at the end of the 19th century, still has its uses today. But of course, this is a general European problem, and I will now hand over to our Polish colleague Krzysztof Czyżewski. Krzysztof Czyżewski What we are trying to do here is summarize our experience of the past twenty years but also to look ahead, especially in terms of the development of civil society and the human rights movement. I’d like to make two points in this context. My first point concerns something that is usually the last point in these kinds of debates: culture and the arts, which, before the time of transformation, used to form a very important part of our lives, our opposition movement, our fight for democracy. But at this turning point culture and art somehow suddenly disappeared and started to be less important in our debates. As Timothy Snyder said on the panel about history, we have too little history today in our Central European countries and in our life. And I feel that we have somehow lost culture and creative art as forces in the development of our democracy. Culture is being staged again, it’s being turned into a kind of festival, a one-off spectacular cut off from what is happening in our society, instead of making an organic, long-term contribution to bringing a spiritual dimension to our lives. In my view, to develop a truly democratic society we must again integrate culture and artistic activity into this process. We talk a lot about citizens not having access to many things, to public life, media, political life, to decision-making processes; but people also have less and less access to creative activity, culture and art in life. Given that culture has turned into a ‘festival culture’, how easily the market has appropriated this kind of activity and how easily we – i.e. the people involved in culture – have compromised with the market and commercial things, I am more and more concerned about the development of democracy and civil society, especially considering how important it was in the past. So I feel we ought to start thinking in terms of a new culture, a revolution in culture, we should revive a counter-culture that will help dismantle the stage again, the way it was in the past. We should bring the arts closer to society and the citizens, we enlisting cultural and creative activities in the struggle for social change again. Zygmunt Bauman wrote recently that our European lives (it’s not only Central Europe that struggles in this crisis of multicultural society) focus too much on identity and give less and less attention to the ability to co-exist, to create and build something that forms the connecting tissue between people, nationalities, societies and countries. This is also linked to what Václav Havel said about the split between the Czechs and Slovaks and how this tendency to divide, to create an archipelago of separate islands in our society, each struggling for and defending its identity, has created something that is less and less compatible with living together, with forming this connecting tissue between us. And my second point is that, although the human rights movement is a very important factor in our life and in our society, and there is still much to do in this area, I am more and more convinced that we should develop another, parallel movement that is more concerned more with coexistence and living together in our society, and with developing these skills.
Jacques Rupnik Two important points have been brought into our discussion about democracy twenty years after. First a paradox: in 1989, intellectuals, artists, writers, historians were propelled to the forefront of politics, so one might think that after all the dissident years this was a perfect time for a connection between culture and politics. But now we see that in fact 1989 heralded the eclipse of intellectuals and the cutting off of culture from its connection with politics. The second paradox, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, is the promotion of culture but sometimes nationalist, culture. And this politics of identity is not necessarily conducive to pluralist democracy. I give the floor to Ágnes Heller. Ágnes Heller This morning meeting with Cuban immigrants was mentioned here. I also met a Cuban immigrant who told me that their revolution had been betrayed. I responded: “Look, all revolutions are betrayed, the question is how they are betrayed.” There is a very big difference between, for example, the Cuban and the Iranian revolution, where they promised liberty and what they got was servitude, and our revolution, which promised liberty and what followed was the constitution of liberties. I think we have constituted liberties in all East European countries – when I watched television twenty years ago, people in Prague shouted “Havel na Hrad!” (Havel to the Castle) and he really got na Hrad. So I think a lot of things actually happened that we can and must be proud of. And of course, we have joined NATO, we got accepted into the European Union, and we have a multi-party system with regular elections and many things we wanted to have. And what is the response to that? Basically, almost everywhere, the response is total disappointment. People are disappointed in our achievements. They are disappointed in this kind of freedom. Sure, I am Hungarian and Hungarians are the proverbial pessimists. So I will speak a little bit from the Hungarian perspective. But I want to answer the question about what happened. I will start with the universal perspective. You all know the Bible, of course. You know how Israel was liberated from its bondage in Egypt. They were in the desert for a long time and very soon they started longing for the fleshpots of Egypt and started to worship the golden calf. Is this not what has happened with us? The people in Hungary started saying: in Kádár’s time, we were better off, we had more money and more of this and that. And of course, we all, or many of us, worshipped the golden calf. I think this is universal – liberty without welfare is a disappointment for people because they want welfare together with liberty.
Next I will say a few words from the Hungarian point of view. Here in Central Europe we all shared the same fate after the Soviet occupation but we all had different histories prior to the Soviet occupation. And these different histories are part of our present history. We are like Sleeping Beauty who was kissed back to life by the Prince. The Prince came from the outside and the Sleeping Beauty, who was inside, continued in each case exactly at the same point where she had stopped before she went to sleep a hundred years ago. And this is what has happened to us, we have all gone back to the past and tried to continue where we broke off. But we had no continuity – at least we believe there was no discontinuity – and we want to find out where to continue. And it’s very important to know where to continue. With the exception of Czechoslovakia no single state in this region had a democratic past of any kind. Whether the Czechoslovak state had a real democracy, how far it was democratic I don’t want to discuss here but at least they had a democratic past. No other state here had a democratic past. Some people were on the side of the winners of the Second World War; other nations were on the side of the losers. And everything was swept under the carpet: everything, including all the hatred between these nations that were considered or proclaimed friendly socialist nations. These nations disliked each other, they hated each other, despised each other before when they were on different sides in the First World War. The Holocaust was also swept under the carpet. As far as Hungary is concerned, Trianon was swept under the carpet. We could not speak about anything. This morning someone mentioned the Freudian concept, the return of the repressed. And now is the time when the repressed can return: nationalism, chauvinism, denial of the Holocaust and many other things have returned, especially nationalism and especially right-wing radicalism. There is also left-wing radicalism but it has no great influence at present in our countries; it’s the right-wing radicalism that is very strong in one or two countries and it’s also a kind of a return to the past that is compensating for the issues that were never discussed openly.
No real history has ever been written about these stories. If there was history, it never got into the schoolbooks. If you read about the same historical event in a Hungarian, Slovak, Slovenian, Romanian or Czech schoolbook they say entirely different things about the same event. You never know who won a war or who won a battle. Because the Hungarians say they won it, and of course they rescued Europe from the Turks, and the Poles will say they are the ones who saved Europe and we’ll never be united and we will never agree. I don’t want to bore you with a lot of things that were swept under the carpet but I could go on. But the issue is: we do have democratic political institutions but we do not have the democratic mentality. Some people in the region have more democratic mentality and some have less. We have basically a very poor political class, and it’s not all their fault, it’s not because they wanted only power and nothing else but it’s because they have no political expertise; they started to play a political role in a country without any kind of democratic experience. Imagine a first-year medical student who is involved in a very difficult brain surgery – this is what has happened here. People have become very disappointed in politics, they believe that all politicians cheat, lie and embezzle, which is certainly not true, because politicians cheat, lie and embezzle no more than school teachers, lawyers or even chimney sweeps do. They are not worse and they are not better, they are simply human. But this is the common perception. To sum up very briefly: the letter is there but what we are missing is the spirit. Jacques Rupnik You are right to point out that all revolutions are bound to be betrayed or to disappoint in some way because they are born in a moment of unity, transparency and innocence and out of a great utopian hope shared. And of course the reality never quite matches up to it. So that moment of disappointment is always there. But then the question is – this morning we talked about how far the archives should be opened, how much openness we want, and how much has been swept under the carpet. And sometimes the politics of the repressed are preferable to the return of the repressed. And we now have ways in Europe for dealing with that and it’s called the European Union. Actually, the European Union has been invented to contain the suppressed, to replace it with interaction, interdependence, institutionalized interdependence as an answer to the politics of the suppressed that we have seen in the 20th century. Our next speaker, Ivan Krastev, has written extensively about the difficulties of post-communist democracy and specifically about the populist backlash. Ivan Krastev I will try to make just two simple points. For the first, let’s start with a story. Four years ago, in 2005, we had an election in Bulgaria and a very radical party was elected to the Bulgarian parliament. There was a TV debate where the commentators were basically split into two groups. One group said: we can’t be a normal democracy because we started electing fascist parties and the other said: at last we’re normal, we’re like the French and others, we have fascists in the parliament. And I think this is very important because one of the things that I believe needs rethinking twenty years after 1989, is this obsession with normality that has been constraining the way we think about our political life. If Czechoslovakia was about normalization in the seventies and eighties, I believe we have all been very much about the discourse of self-normalization. We are trying to explain all the problems we are facing today as post-communist problems. For example, take populism. Is populism a post-communist problem? How different is Mr. Berlusconi from some of the people that we see in our countries? Why is what is happening there normal and here pathological? I’m saying this because I do believe it’s very important to understand that democracy has never been the best form of government; it’s simply been the least worst. And when we start with this, the problem that democracy does not mean disappointment is a false assumption. Democracy is about disappointment and the difference between a democratic and a non-democratic regime is simply that in the former you know how to deal with disappointment and in the latter you’re becoming basically more and more disappointed. And I believe that here Russia provides a good example. In my view this obsession with normality is something we ought to overcome. We ought to start to think more creatively about some of the problems we are facing. One of the problems is that of populist leaders being elected and of the rise of populist parties, but this phenomenon is not quite as straightforward as people believe. I’ll give you an example. In all those countries where leaders that have been called populist have been elected, including Slovakia and my country, trust in democratic institutions increased, including trust in institutions such as the courts and the media. This is what public opinion polls say. I know that opinion polls are opium for politicians but anyway, there they are.
The basic issue is: let’s try to understand why people are so angry and disappointed, even though most of the things that were proclaimed in 1989 were accomplished: we have joined NATO, the European Union, we have constitutional democracy. Let’s take the greengrocer, whom Mr. Havel famously described in 1988, and what happened to him in these twenty years. Of course, he removed the poster ‘Workers of the World Unite’ and put up the poster ‘Best Vegetables in Town’ instead. Both posters, in a way, were fake. But what is more important is that the first thing he started to experience was a totally different set of comparisons. People do not compare themselves with how they lived 20 years ago. They compare themselves with how people live in the neighbouring countries. This is why I believe this disappointment does not signify nostalgia for communism – people have simply started to compare in totally different frameworks. There was a famous study in the 1980s trying to measure how happy people are around the world. In the 1980s there was no correlation between happiness and the GDP per capita. Nigerians were as happy as West Germans. In 2000 they repeated the same survey and it appeared that there was a strong correlation between the GDP per capita and happiness. What has happened was that the Nigerians got televisions. So they can now see how the West Germans live. And this pressure of comparisons is something that should be taken seriously.
The second thing is what happened to this greengrocer. Of course he did not vote in the elections in which he could change something here and there. But in a strange way he was important. And he was important because of a deficit. For example, even if you are a member of the nomenclatura and you want to have good vegetables, you should develop a good relationship with your greengrocer. You should ask him how his daughter is; you should be ready to do him small favours. Basically, he felt connected. One of the things that happened in our society – and I believe that this makes people absolutely furious with their leaders – is that they understood that twenty years after the change their leaders have liberated themselves of any relationship with the community they live with. They liberated themselves, in a sense, from the tax system, because they go to off-shore tax havens. They liberated themselves from the public school system because they are sending their kids to private schools. They liberated themselves from the healthcare system because if you have enough money you can go to private hospitals in Vienna. The only system from which you cannot liberate yourself is the criminal system.
As a result, what you see with the populist movement is that the pressure is not to re-nationalize the economy; they want to re-nationalize the elites. They want their elites to be hurt. In Bulgaria there is pressure to see ministers in prison. And when we ask: whom do you want to see in prison, they say: it doesn’t matter who it is, as long as somebody is in prison. And I believe this is really important. It is symbolic of the fact that the elites cannot disconnect from the societies in which they live. At least for me this is one of the major elements of populism and from this point of view these very difficult relations between the elites and the public, which are not a post-communist phenomenon, are something we should think about more seriously twenty years after the greengrocer privatized his small shop. Jacques Rupnik Yes, the elites emancipated themselves from the voters the minute democracy was introduced. This is one of the paradoxes of the system and that’s why we have the populist backlash which is essentially an anti-elite phenomenon. It’s not necessarily a threat to democracy (as you rightly said) but it is definitely an anti-elite movement. Our next speaker, Robert Menasse from Vienna. Robert Menasse Democracy 20 years after… Is there a problem? Evidently yes. Do you understand the problem? Evidently not. Can you describe the problem? Evidently it is easier to feel than to describe. And if you want to describe and understand and resolve a problem I suggest that you look at the circumstances amid which the problem is growing. And I see it in the following very, very simple manner. You will be surprised that it’s so simple. What happened 20 years ago? When I compare Slovakia and Austria, 20 years ago, exactly in the same year, two things happened: the fall of the Stalinist system in the East and the entry of Austria into the European Union. This is what happened: Austria’s democracy was a gift. Nobody had to struggle for it. Nobody had to want it. Nobody was ready to give their life to secure democracy. It was a gift of the Western Allied powers, the winners of the Second World War. They gave Austrians the Western model of democracy. And the Austrians said: thank you, that’s better than bombs and hunger. This was a long time ago and the Austria got used to the democratic system and realized something must be better about it because we were richer and freer, because we had commercials and so on, and it was nicer than what our immediate eastern neighbour had. On the other hand, the eastern countries had a Stalinist system that was a gift from the Soviet Union and the other winners of Second World War. They were promised socialism, and – at the end of history – communism, equality of opportunity and freedom for everyone, a paradise at the end of history. But it did not come, so the people did not get used to it, they struggled and they fought, they wanted democracy and they won. So all of a sudden, there were these two neighbours. On the one side a democracy that no one had struggled for, with a half a century of tradition it has acquired since. On the other side there was the beginning of a democracy people had struggled for, they wanted it, but they had no culture and tradition to go with it, they had no idea how it really works, because you need experience of how to live a democratic life and system. The ones who did not fight for it were not really interested to learn how it works or what it is. They just had it, while those who had struggled for it had no experience of what it could be and how it should be. So these two neighbours with completely different histories had one thing in common: neither of them knew what democracy was. And then another thing happened. The European Union. Austria entered the European Union and very soon after gaining sovereignty Slovakia, the Czech Republic and the other eastern countries also joined the European Union. And now something very, very funny happened and nobody has noticed it. For the former Western democracies the European Union has brought a backlash in democracy. We had more democracy before but we hadn’t examined it or reflected on it critically; we were simply accustomed to it. But in theory we had more democracy. And now we have less.
One of the basic principles of democracy is the separation of powers: the executive must be separate from the legislature, and so forth. You can’t have all power concentrated in one hand; that is not democracy. The people who fought for it knew this. We in Western Europe forgot it. And therefore nobody, nobody in Austria or in the Western countries realized that the European Union got itself a constitution that abolished the separation of powers. In the EU executive and legislative power are in the same hand. It’s the end of a basic principle of democracy. On the other hand, the eastern countries struggled for liberation, they wanted democracy, but they had no experience of democracy and thought it meant being able to vote, getting more commercials and more competition in the market. They thought democracy meant democracy of the market. They didn’t know, because they had not experienced it, that democracy means competition of political ideas and ideas of how to organize society. So they won sovereignty, they won the possibility of democracy and joined the European Union but didn’t realize they did not get what they had hoped for. And now these two neighbours with very different histories are together again, both suffering from the same deficit, both of them thinking that democracy is achieved when politicians in their Sunday speeches tell stories featuring the word democracy as the main character: we are the democratic Europe, we have to have democracy… They keep repeating and hearing the word democracy but nobody has any idea what it might be. And for both of us, for the Slovaks and the Austrians, within the whole continent and at least in competition with the so-called world powers, China and the US, our whole future will depend on whether we realize what it could be and that we don’t have it. If we realize what it could be we could perhaps begin to fight for it together now; that’s our big chance.
If we don’t fight for it we will have to live with the fact that we get only substitutes and that we are offered the “satisfaction” that others are poorer and more victimized than ourselves. And if, for example, the Czechs look down on the Slovaks and the Slovaks look down on the Roma, and the Austrians look down on all of them: that’s not the kind of life on this continent that I wish for myself and my children. Jacques Rupnik I know the chair should not normally put its oar in but I have to say at least one word about the European factor in this. It’s convenient to blame the problems of our democracy on the European Union. Is the Berlusconi phenomenon a product of the European Union? I doubt it; I think it has nothing to do with it. It has a great deal to do with Italian politics, obviously, and with the political culture of Italy. As for the EU, you say it has no separation of powers. Well, it has the European Council, where all the governments are represented and which has the European Commission as a tool to implement its decisions; it has a democratically elected European Parliament, it has a European Court. So, it’s not perfect and we are a long way from a European democracy, but to blame the state of our democracy on the European Union is a bit of a cop-out. I know you always get a round of applause for that, but… Robert Menasse May I respond to that – because we have a discussion here? I know this is a very difficult area but I’m grateful for your answer. But remember the following. Theoretically, looking at the system and how it is organized, Italy, the old Italy before the European Union membership, had a more developed system of democracy, I speak of a system, than the European Union has today. Jacques Rupnik You mean before the European Union, Italy had fascism, basically. Robert Menasse Yes, it had fascism but that’s democracy. But … Jacques Rupnik OK, the moderator must moderate himself. Let me give the floor … Robert Menasse I do admire you for loving the European Union, so do I… But let me say one thing because you started this discussion. We can vote in the European Union for the European parliament but the European parliament does not have the right to initiate laws. The laws are made by the Commission and the Council which we didn’t elect and this is a lack of democracy. In the classic democratic system you vote for a parliament, which has the right to make laws, this is the difference. Jacques Rupnik We will have to agree to disagree. And it would be unfair to Ingo Schulze and our audience to continue now, but we will return to this, I’m sure. Ingo Schulze has the floor. Ingo Schulze Coming from East Germany you are always “in between”. You don’t really count as an East European and you don’t really count as a West European. And now that we have marked the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, what surprised me was all the fighting about the past. It was a fight about how to interpret the past in which there were basically two narratives. One described what happened twenty years ago as the journey from dictatorship to freedom. The other one says – yes that’s right but that’s only half the truth, because we have to describe the change as a change of dependencies. And for me the problem is not really the disappearance of the East but the disappearance of the West. What it means is the “economization” of every part of society. It’s something that may have started with Reagan and Thatcher, something that was part of the Anglo-Saxon world but in 1989 it became a global phenomenon. Democracy means that you have freedom and social justice together. And my problem is that this connection was severed or maybe these two things are moving apart from each other. When I look at Germany, I see an already polarized society that is becoming ever more polarized. I would say that with 1989 came a great loss of importance for the writer and the intellectual and even the human being. We knew a lot about freedom and we knew a lot about dictatorship but we did not have so much knowledge about economics. Today I have the feeling that the problem is that politicians don’t see themselves as politicians but rather as managers. They want to manage and their big aim is to bring growth, growth and growth. On the 9th November  a big screen was erected on the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin and the story of 100 years of the Audi car was projected on it over and over again. It was a story of success upon success, including the 1930s when they won lots of races and there were a lot of flowers and hurrahs. And I thought it’s a shame that on this date, as we celebrate 20 years since the fall of the Wall, there is this Audi advertisement on the Brandenburg gate. Some of my colleagues said: “What do you mean? They paid for it, so what’s wrong with that?” But I thought it’s not right, as a citizen I want to pay for the celebrations, I don’t want a corporation to pay for the celebrations. And on the same day they adopted a new law in Germany – it’s hard to describe in English, at first I thought it was a word invented by a comedian – the Wachstumsbeschleunigungsgesetz [growth-speeding-up-law]. It’s a monster of a word and I think that 20 years ago our politics was more rational. We used to have five-year plans but now politicians speak only of these economic things and I think if today we don’t want to live the lie, we have to speak out and say it’s wrong that the only solution we have to everything is growth, growth, growth. We should explain to every child that this is the wrong direction and that we have to speak about how to share out work, how to distribute profits, but all we speak about is how we can grow more and more. And I think that as writers and human beings we have to attack this economic way of thinking. Jacques Rupnik Growth of growth: that’s one of Václav Havel’s favourite phrases for the phenomenon you’ve just described. And now, last but not least, Miro Kusý, the home team. Miroslav Kusý Our discussion is headed “democracy fatigue”. I know what Jacques Rupnik means by this phrase but I believe that in the case of Slovakia it should be slightly modified. What we have here is rather a “democracy deficit fatigue”: people are tired of how badly democracy is working here, how many democratic institutions are not working properly. As a result, our citizens don’t understand these institutions and they don’t trust them. I would like to illustrate this with a few examples. Example No. 1: A few years ago, while walking in a park, Hedviga Malinová, an ethnic Hungarian student in Slovakia, was attacked by hooligans, badly beaten up and had the words “Hungarians go to the other side of the Danube” scrawled on her back. Under normal circumstances this would have been regarded as an obvious act of hooliganism with an ethnic background. However, immediately afterwards the Prime Minister and the Minister of the Interior held a press conference and accused the student of lying. They said she had beaten herself up, she had written those words on her back herself and by saying this the Minister and the Prime Minister pre-empted the whole investigation since they made their statement before the police even had a chance to look into the case. Some years have now passed, Hedviga Malinová completed her studies, got married, had a child if I’m not mistaken – and the case still has not been concluded, as the public prosecutor keeps demanding further evidence. So how can a Slovak citizen trust our prosecutors, our investigating agencies if they let themselves be manipulated in this way and are not capable of concluding such a straightforward case? Example No. 2 is the hot air affair. Slovakia has sold its emission quotas to a garage company – an obscure company based somewhere in the USA, in the middle of nowhere, with a garage for an address, as some journalists accidentally discovered. Nobody knows who is behind this company. We have sold them the quotas well below market price, getting a lot less for them than what the Czechs got for their emissions (I think we got 5 Euros per ton compared to the Czechs’ 10 Euros). This affair would not be interesting on its own; we have seen plenty of similar excesses here, but what makes it interesting is this: if our authorities could not find out who is behind this garage company, why have we committed ourselves to sell them several more tons over a period of another 10 years or so? Nobody seems to be able to work this out, even though the Prime Minister claimed he would get to the bottom of it – after first claiming he knew nothing about it he made a U-turn and said we would no longer sell to this company – but nothing has been done about it and there are rumours that further emissions have been sold to this company. I don’t want to bore you but I could go on listing examples like this. I will mention just one more case, because it is indicative in this respect. It concerns the waste dump in Pezinok, a small wine-growing town in the Carpathians, not far from Bratislava. Right on the town’s edge they started building a huge waste dump. The whole town rose up against it, reams have been written about it in the papers and it’s been going on for two, three years or even ten years – in any case, it’s has been dragging on for a very long time anyway and the citizens’ petitions have had no effect. A delegation went to see the Prime Minister who promised to sort it out but he has apparently forgotten his promise. Eventually, the owner managed to complete the construction of the site despite all protests and despite a building ban. The dump was completed and just when everyone thought it was all over he started bringing in lorries of waste in spite of the ban, claiming the Constitutional Court granted him permission to start operating the dump. Nobody has seen the Constitutional Court’s decision and the Constitutional Court itself is silent on the matter, neither confirming nor denying the owner’s claims of the owner, who has in the meantime continued shipping in waste, referring to the Constitutional Court decision which nobody has seen but which he claims to have in his pocket.
These are all examples of why people in this country are justified in feeling a democracy deficit fatigue. And there is also another point. We are building a new country. The Prime Minister keeps pointing out that we have to bear in mind our country’s history, our myths, that we have to uphold our traditions. He himself is very keen on displaying his respect for some of these traditions; on the other hand, yesterday was a state holiday, one of those holidays that the majority of our citizens consider most important: the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. Yet on the eve of the anniversary our Prime Minister travelled to Moscow, and the following day he went to London where, although he did speak about the anniversary, he did it in such a way as if, say, you were celebrating your wife’s birthday and then said at the party: oh well, she’s not much of a cook really, and she can’t keep the house clean either. This was more or less the way our Prime Minister spoke about the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in London. So, although marks certain holidays very ostentatiously, he gave this one a miss. So these are examples of how a citizen in this country gets a picture of what is democracy, of what does and does not matter in this democracy. Apropos of historical reminiscences, the Czech communist ideologue Zdeněk Nejedlý once said: “Communists are the heirs of the Czech nation’s great traditions. What it meant was that the communists had a selective approach to tradition. It was Nejedlý who said “Smetana – yes, Dvořák – no.” It was he who said, “the Hussite revolution – yes, the St. Wenceslas tradition – no”. And our Prime Minister is doing something similar today with respect to our traditions. He has adopted this approach from the communists; it’s now him and his ideology instead of them and theirs. Now he is telling the nation: these are the traditions that I, the Prime Minister, accept and these are the ones I don’t accept; these are the traditions I will ignore or interpret in my own way. So obviously, all this decay is reflected in the citizens’ attitude to this country and to democracy. How is the citizen to trust democracy? The late Milan Šimečka said shortly after the Velvet Revolution – alas, he died very soon after it – “Democracy is upon us: there will be difficult times ahead”.
As we embark on building democracy in this country we cannot pick and choose, discarding the weak points and only taking the good ones. We cannot simply ignore the bad points and say: these are the parts of democracy we don’t want. The freedoms that democracy has bestowed upon us include both the good things and the bad, because democracy provides a fertile breeding-ground for various parasites, thieves, and so on, because democracy is something wonderful for the honest citizen but it’s simply paradise for the fraud who knows how to use and abuse the freedoms. And it means that now, in this situation, we cannot reject the bad side. Instead, we have to be very vigilant and make sure our citizens aren’t manipulated. And this is the key issue when developing civil society – to ensure that the citizen doesn’t just participate in elections once every four years – or not even that often (in the last elections the turnout was about 20%) and then just waits for four years to see what the politicians he has chosen will offer him. Jacques Rupnik Many thanks, especially for the pertinent comment about democracy deficit fatigue. The state of democracy is very closely linked to this democracy deficit fatigue. Before we open to questions from the audience I’d like to offer the panellists the chance to respond to each other for a brief comment. Ágnes Heller A very brief comment. Dr. Kusý, it is obvious that I cannot come to a soccer match between Slovakia and Hungary without violence, without abuse and without hooliganism. And I think that’s a terrible thing. I want to warn you that it’s not only Hungary and Slovakia. Soccer hooliganism and hooliganism in general is widespread throughout Europe and I want to say that Central Europe and Eastern Europe is just an extremely European part of Europe. Because what happens here, happens also in Amsterdam, in Athens, in London, in Paris and in many other capitals of Europe. This democracy fatigue is not just a Central European phenomenon. We are unable to integrate young people: that is a basic and very important problem, not just of Central Europe, but of Europe as a whole. Jacques Rupnik I imagine that the question of Hungarian-Slovak relations will come up again since both countries are on the eve of elections which will be very important for their mutual relationship, particularly for the Hungarian minority [in Slovakia]. This is not only about democracy fatigue, this is about politicians using and exploiting certain situations, including the support of radical nationalists, these new Hungarian movements that we have seen such as Jobbik, that constitute a threat to democracy. We are talking about a democracy fatigue but is it there potential threats to democracy as such? Krzysztof Czyżewski On the subject of things swept under the carpet, the more I get involved in democratic life the more I have to think about something I had previously not realized: before 1989 we did not have a future. When Czesław Miłosz came to Poland for the first time after 50 years in exile he pointed out that we were the first generation that actually had a future. For the first time, in this part of the world, our activities had a long-term perspective. But very often I can’t help wondering – have we regained our future or are we still struggling to regain it? The problem I have with democracy today is that even in discussions about the 20th anniversary we hear that everything had been decided between Gorbachov and Bush, outside our countries, between Russia and the United States, the big world powers. And that is what makes it so difficult for us to believe that what we are doing on a daily basis in our civil societies is really crucial and that it is not appropriated by the superpowers, who are depriving us of access to the decision-making process, to shaping our own lives. I am saying this because regaining our future depends to a large extent on how we deal with the past and with our history. When the past is swept under the carpet, the future is not possible, it is no longer open for you. Robert Menasse It’s clear that democracy means not just the possibility of voting every four or five years. If elections could really profoundly change something, they would be forbidden, that’s clear. But the quality of a democracy cannot be judged solely on the basis of whether you have the chance to vote. So what other ways are there? For example, at more than 50 universities in the European Union, students are currently on strike. It’s very important – I think they show us the simple fact and the idea that the quality of democracy depends on the quality of education. The better the schools and universities are, the better the education system is, the more people have the chance to get educated. Not only directly, for a certain job, but if people got more chances to understand what it means to be a social being, our democracy would be better. So we should support these striking universities in this situation now. Ivan Krastev Listening to this debate reminded me of a famous popular psychological experiment. If very quickly, for five minutes you show a person pictures of a cat and you ask him what he sees, he says he sees a cat. When you start to mix some pictures of dogs among the pictures of cats and keep asking this person what he sees, he will say: I see cats. By the end, half of the pictures you are showing him are of cats and the other half of dogs but he continues to see cats. And I think the problem with democracy is a little bit like that. We always see what we want to see. For example, about voting: for some of the younger generation, suing the government is a much more natural way to express their political activity than to go and vote in an election. Nevertheless, we keep talking of the disappearance of a certain kind of political activity. I believe that what we are seeing is a transformation of democratic politics everywhere. Here in this region but also in Western Europe, in the United States. We are very nostalgic for the Cold War type of Western democracy that we used to know. But it does not exist anymore. Even this attack on the European Union is, in my view, very nostalgic. You’re saying how good Austrian democracy was; I’m quite sure that 30 years ago you would have written how bad it was. The discourse of democracy has always been a discourse of crisis. You cannot solve the problem. The question is basically learning how to live with it. I don’t believe that we can always have a situation when nothing bad is happening. But here you have the former President of a country, and there is someone saying that the Prime Minister is not doing very well. And this is good. Because people are going to hear it, this is important, this is legitimate, and I believe that having these tensions between different views of society, living with the messy beauty of democracy, is something to which we should reconcile ourselves. Democracy does not mean that we are going to be more prosperous. Democracy is never about prosperity – after all, in terms of economic growth, for the past 30 years the Chinese have been doing well – democracy is not about this. And I believe that at least one of the things we can come away with is appreciation of its messy side, because otherwise we will experience an unproductive disappointment. And I believe that democracy is about productive disappointment.
Questions from the audience After 1989 we have replaced the communist system with Western-style democracy. Have we just adopted a system from other countries instead of finding a different way of implementing it? And have any new political leaders emerged who were not around 20 years ago? Miro Kusý I think the principles of democracy are universal and basically very simple. I think there is always a problem in trying to seek one’s own way and that is why it makes sense to respect those universal principles. All the rest, all the additional things that are specific to individual nations ought to reflect the domestic situation. If it does not reflect the domestic situation, or if it includes some features invented by politicians just to make their job of governing easier, it ought to be rejected. If these features help to simplify the game on the local playground they should be accepted, but only on condition that they are transparent and acceptable. Well, here you have a general response to a general question. Václav Havel In my time as President I went on state visits to many countries and politicians in democratic countries often said to me: “Don’t repeat our mistakes! How we wish we could be starting from scratch like you.” Almost as if they were envious that we had to create everything from scratch, a constitution, legislation and so on. But we did not learn any of their lessons. And perhaps this is how it should be – perhaps people have to keep repeating certain mistakes in order to realize that they are mistakes. I don’t think we ought to try and invent a new kind of democracy. Nevertheless, there are things that could be described as mistakes, which we could have avoided if we had listened to those who envied us. I could mention some specific examples, mostly to do with regulation: to what extent should the market economy, capitalism, be held in check by meaningful limitations, boundaries, principles or rules. Why is the anniversary of the creation of the Republic of Czechoslovakia in 1948 no longer celebrated in this country even though the Slovaks played a significant role in the creation of the country? Miro Kusý As I already mentioned earlier, the regime picks those traditions it considers important for the nation. The regime tells the nation – this is something you will celebrate, this is something you won’t. So this is the answer to your question: they have selected certain holidays for us, they have imposed some, while deciding to ignore others. Personally, I completely agree with you and will always consider 28th October my holiday. Mr President, you said recently that we should be vigilant. Here in Slovakia 5 percent of the population at most reads the daily press and thinks in a wider context. How can we ensure that more people are vigilant? Journalists and politicians are not very good at it. Is it the job of actors, singers or perhaps bishops? Václav Havel The answer is simple. It should be done by people such as Miro Kusý. Where there is fatigue, there is a vacuum. A few years ago, accepting an honorary doctorate in Bratislava, President Havel said that strange demons we thought had long disappeared, have started creeping out of their holes all over Europe – demons of nationalism, xenophobia. This morning Slavenka Drakulić said that art will not stop them because many of these demons are artistically inclined; it seems that education won’t stop them either because many of those beasts are educated; it seems contemporary politics won’t stop them either because it has been exhausted, and it seems that in the 20th century it wasn’t religion either because it was either neutered or abused. So my question to Mr. President, and perhaps the other panellists is: do you see any potential forces that might chase those demons back into their holes or, preferably, that might transform them? Václav Havel These demons are likely to have several causes. One of them is the globalization of the world: nowadays you can’t tell whether you are at a Tokyo airport or in a Los Angeles shopping mall or in a Prague hotel. And this homogenization creates a counter-pressure – for those who want to define themselves and their own identity in contrast to others, this is precisely the terrain and the need that helps the demons to crawl out. Because usually these demons are nationalist and they feel strangled by the homogenization of the world. The effect of globalization, combined with all the modern technologies that are still developing at a frantic pace, seems to be that people, nations and continents are pushed more and more tightly together and this unifying pressure results in a kind of compression and this is what these various entities seem to be reacting to. My experience from prison is that the more prisoners you put in a single cell the more likely they are to fight among themselves. So, to keep to today’s central image, we’re talking of a kind of civilization fatigue, globalization fatigue but this is by no means the only cause, just the one that occurred to me on the spur of the moment. But I won’t go on because I want to give others a chance to speak too. Ágnes Heller The demons are not a problem that can be solved. None of us can give you a recipe for solving this problem. In fact it’s not a problem: demons are born together with democracy because everyone knows that la nation – the nation state – and democracy were born in Europe simultaneously, and they make very uneasy bedfellows. So the question is which controls which. And I think the best thing that we can achieve is that democracy keeps these nationalistic demons in check, these demons that come from the nation state. Perhaps the task for us is to learn to tolerate frustrations, because in democracy toleration goes hand in hand with frustration. You can’t have only the benefits. There are no benefits without corresponding losses. And democracy fatigue breeds nationalistic movements because it is very difficult to integrate young people. Families are falling apart and families are not just the source of the traditional values that we inherit. Universities, as you mentioned, are basically job-creating machines, they educate young people for jobs. So what remains are phoney values. Twenty years ago many new political parties were created amid great enthusiasm. The Green Party was very successful for a while, it had seats in Parliament but then it lost support and currently is outside parliament. Mr. President said that nowadays we tend to regard politics as something suspicious. Another problem is that many educated young people are leaving the country to build their careers abroad. If there is a democracy deficit what do you think might motivate decent, bright, well-educated people to participate in public life and get involved in politics again? Václav Havel How can young people be motivated to be involved in public affairs, to take on political positions? The answer is simple – responsibility. It’s something that we human beings are born with, it is the other side of the coin of liberty. To put it very simply, people ought to get involved in politics when they feel they are fed up with what is going on, they cannot take it any longer and want things to change. I experienced it myself: for a long time I resisted the idea that I should stand for president when it was first suggested in 1989 but in the end the following argument disarmed me: “As someone who criticized them all his life, you should now demonstrate how it should be done better”. So it is responsibility that keeps pushing one into doing things one would otherwise not wish to do but one cannot help doing. I think this is a very basic human impulse. Responsibility, of course, resides deeper down. I believe responsibility is suspended from a kind of metaphysical nail, it’s linked to our relationship to eternity and infinity. We’ve been told that we’ve achieved everything we had longed for: we had called “Havel na Hrad” and it did happen, and rightly so, because Václav Havel was the unquestionable moral authority. One of the things you said in those heady days, Mr. President, was: “Let truth and justice prevail over lies and hatred”, challenging us to keep politics and public life ethical. Why has this moral dimension completely disappeared from public discourse? Václav Havel During one of those big rallies on Wenceslas Square, there was a huge crowd of around 150,000 people and at some point we sensed they were getting a bit restless. I was about to deliver the main speech I had written in haste, and I felt that the speech ought to conclude with some lofty rallying cry so I shouted “Let love and truth prevail over lies and hatred”. It ought to be seen in the context of those days. But this does not mean I would not shout this again tomorrow or that it is no longer valid. Because the exact wording was: love and truth MUST prevail over lies and hatred. And at a certain moment it did prevail: the communist ideology, as we know, was based on class hatred. Class hatred was integral to it and so it was used as a tool to oppose those who were “against us”, as a legitimate principle of good social development. “Truth will prevail” had been our country’s traditional motto. So all I did was ad love to the mix. It seems to me that in the present-day world of modern technologies we have stopped differentiating information from truth. There are billions of bits of information floating around the globe but nobody can vouch for any of it. Truth, by contrast, is information that someone personally vouches for and is prepared to prove by sacrifice. It seemed to me that after decades of civilization’s development it was necessary to emphasize this personal element, this personal guarantee. And this is linked to my answer to the earlier question – this personal guarantee is an expression of responsibility. So we’ve come full circle. And as I have the floor, perhaps I may be allowed to add one more thing. It is necessary to carefully distinguish idea from ideology. An ideology is a complex of ideas that pretends to have an answer to everything. It is a closed, complete thing, as opposed to an idea that exists on its own, as if thrown to the wolves. Ideology is terribly comfortable, it’s very simple and very nice, because then you don’t have to think, everything has been thought of and nicely packaged for you. So another thing that I consider very important is that we should keep opting for ideas while taking care to avoid ideologies. Jacques Rupnik This seems an appropriate point on which to end our discussion so there’s no need for me to summarize. Perhaps I’ll add just one thing: someone here, I think it was our Polish colleague, said that before 1989 we felt we had no future, that we could not envision our future. Then, following 1989 everything seemed to get on a clear track. It seemed obvious what we had to do: we would establish democracy, introduce the market economy, return to Europe, join NATO, and so on. This programme has been more or less accomplished and now we all feel that this cycle that we embarked on 20 years ago has somehow become exhausted. We have democratic institutions but they work the way Miro Kusý has described them. We have a market economy but we are in the midst of an economic and financial crisis. So suddenly we are realizing that this cycle is itself becoming exhausted and this is forcing us to articulate our predicament anew. However, this is no longer specifically a problem of the countries of Central Europe – it is a problem shared with all of Europe. Ágnes Heller pointed out that these countries reflect European problems in a more pronounced way. There are two ways we can respond to this: we can say that our democracy fatigue demonstrates that we have succeeded because we are now are suffering from the same problems as the West. That is the positive, optimistic version. Or, on the other hand, we might express concern that democracy has become so tired after only 20 years and that being so young it lacks traditions and established institutions, and perhaps that makes it more vulnerable. And that is why, as Mr. President has said, we have to be more vigilant. With this I will conclude. Thank you all very much.
Translation Julia Sherwood